Tuesday, October 23, 2012

REVIEW: The Fearless Vampire Killers

The Fearless Vampire Killers
Director: Roman Polanski
Year 1967
The Fearless Vampire Killers, AKA Pardon Me But Your Teeth Are In My Neck, is a whimsical romp that fuses the imagery that you’d expect to see in a period vampire film with that of a slapstick comedy. With a classic stylized approach and a perverted fixation on the female form, with all of its wonderful curvatures, the movie is an entertaining, laugh a minute, production that never takes itself too seriously as it dishes out one zany situation after another. Filled with an infectious energy that beams from beginning to end, The Fearless Vampire Killers is a cinematic experience that you won’t soon forget.
The film follows a noted chiroptologist named Professor Abronsius and his trusted, but clumsy, assistant Alfred. While traveling the Transylvanian countryside in search of vampires, the two take refuge at a local Inn. After settling in with the superstitious locals, Alfred becomes fixated with the innkeeper’s beautiful young daughter, Sarah Shagal. Unfortunately for him though, Count von Krolock, the mysterious owner of the castle estate high in the mountains above the village, has his eye on the stunning beauty. Feared by the locals and fitting every vampire cliché in the book, both Abronsius and Alfred agree that Count von Krolock might just be the man they’re searching for. It’s not until the Count kidnaps Sarah, that the two vampire killers realize that Krolock truly is a creature of the night. Determined to get Sarah back, Alfred and Professor Abronsius make their way to Krolock’s castle in hopes of vanquishing the vampire and saving the girl. They soon come to find that this simple task is anything but routine.

Jack MacGowran plays the role of Professor Abronsius, the bat researcher who has the hankering to slay some vampires. A cartoon character in himself, MacGowran portrays the astute, yet silly, professor with a fanciful charm, which gels quite nicely with the farcical approach of the film. Pairing up with MacGowran’s Abronsius is Roman Polanski as the head over heels and accident prone Alfred. Polanski does a wonderful job in making his character lovable, and I got a kick out of how perverted his character was. There’s not a moment that goes by where Alfred misses the opportunity to stare hypnotically at a woman’s cleavage as she bends over carelessly. I swear this running gag happened at least five separate times and Polanski makes it funny every single time because of his overacted expression and single minded nature. What’s great about these two characters, Alfred and Abronsius, is that they have great chemistry together. The pairing of these two actors is pure genius, and you can tell that they have a special bond which helps tremendously in establishing their motley group of vampire killers. Both MacGowran and Polanski do a wonderful job and they lift up the material into iconic territory.
As for the rest of the cast, Sharon Tate takes on the role of Sarah Shagal, the Innkeeper’s daughter. Never has she looked more beautiful, because she absolutely steals each scene she appears in. Her screen presence is a true testament to her acting ability and in The Fearless Vampire Killers, she seems at the top of her game. Though the approach of this film is silly and whimsical, Tate still manages to bring a sense of weight to the proceedings, which results in a performance that truly adds to the depth of this very unusual production. The remaining memorable characters are comprised of Terry Downes as Koukol the servant, Iain Quarreir as Herbert von Krolock, and Ferdy Mayne as Count von Krolock the nasty lead vampire. Each of these guys do a commendable job with their individual characters and my favorite of the bunch would have to be Downes as the grotesque man servant. The guy is just so damn ugly and his appearance in the movie borders that fine line between comedy and horror, because of his strange performance and even stranger looks. In the end you really have to appreciate his efforts and the work done by the entire breadth of the cast. Without a doubt, The Fearless Vampire Killers has a slew of actors that go above and beyond the call of duty.

One of the most impressive things about this horror hybrid is the fact that Polanski and the rest of the crew were able to balance the conflicting elements of creating a comedy/horror film by juxtaposing these wild slapstick moments against a truly gothic backdrop. Shot in a harsh winter setting across a surreal series of locations, the film never feels lacking in its visuals or fictitious in its representation. If you took the comedic aspects out of the movie and just focused on the fantastic imagery that’s on display, you would have yourself a haunting little horror film that’s abundant in atmosphere and genuinely creepy. The actual look of Krolock Castle is especially epic in scale, reflecting an unsettling sort of vibe, and seeing that a good majority of the film takes place inside and outside of its expansive walls, the filmmakers really used this interesting location to its fullest.
The same can be said for the comedic portions of the movie, which there are plenty of. The absurdity levels in this story reach some unparalleled heights as one out of control situation spills into the other, forming a mash up of wacky moments that just kind of fit within this weird universe Polanski has set up. From coffin sled riding, to cleavage overload, to a wacky vampire chase inside the castle, to Abronsius and Alfred going undercover at a vampire masquerade ball, this film is filled to the brim with unbelievably silly moments that work wonders within the confines of the production. It is especially rare to see a movie that constructs its own kind of reality and that is exactly what we get with The Fearless Vampire Killers. It’s in a world of its own, filled with off the wall characters, which if placed in any other setting would be wholly out of place, but within the fabric of time that Polanski has concocted, it just plain makes sense.

The Fearless Vampire Killers is a conceptual dream of two genres melding together in order to make something else entirely. The combination of its horror and comedy elements is something of a perfect union, and to put it bluntly the execution is priceless. Usually when a film decides to delve into multiple genre waters, it comes out as an obvious mix, but with The Fearless Vampire Killers, the end result is a whole new genre in itself. The film is established in a world of its own and the characters that inhabit it, played marvelously by Jack MacGowran, Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate and the bunch, are fully realized and highly engaging set pieces in this smorgasbord of classic horror archetypes.
The comedy, though overtly over the top, fits perfectly within its bizarre world, making you believe that every out of control action is simply the norm for this twisted society of cinema characters. Even though the film doesn’t have a drip of true horror moments or ghastly, gory, sequences, it makes up for it with its tremendous atmosphere and impeccable scenery. From its snow covered landscapes, to its quaint villages, to its foreboding depictions of Krolock Castle, the film has an abundance of visual wealth that it never squanders or takes for granted. If you are in the mood for a haunted gem that will leave you giggling like a school girl, then give this one a go. The Fearless Vampire Killers is…..

Don't stop on our account.

Cleavage, wonderful Cleavage!

You silly silly man.

That's right... You scrub that floor. You scrub that floor good.

You want me to stick this where?

Ewww! I hope he washed his vampire hands.

What are these two perverts peeping at?


I'm feeling a bit dirty. May I join you?

Quit clowning around you knuckleheads.

Rock on dude!

Get ready for them to bust out the Thriller moves.

Looks like they're up to their wacky antics again.

I know what this guy is looking at.

Looks like Polanski pooped his pantaloons again.

Vampires just hate doing the limbo.


Watch out! This chick gives a mean hickey.

Monday, October 22, 2012

REVIEW: The City of the Dead

The City of the Dead
Director: John Llewellyn Moxey
Year 1960
The City of the Dead, AKA Horror Hotel, is a haunting little underrated gem which focuses on the storied myths of New England’s past to tell a new sordid tale filled with cults, conspiracies and witchcraft. Displayed in tension filled style and embraced by black & white cinematography that just oozes with ambience, this twisted story revels in poignant imagery that really sets the mood for the season. With an abundance of atmosphere and a solid cast, The City of the Dead primes the viewer with its unsettling subject matter and its dream-like sets and locations, which really pack a solid horror punch. If you’re looking for a classy horror entry that mirrors the quality that British powerhouse Hammer Films used to produce, then this little known witchcraft entry may be just up your alley.
The film begins in the year 1692 with a witch burning, as the villagers of Whitewood, a small New England town, condemn a local heretic named Elizabeth Selwyn. As she burns at the stake, she curses the town and threatens to return again. Flash forward 300 years later and college student Nan Barlow, at the suggestion of her professor, Alan Driscoll, heads to Whitewood in order to do some research on witchcraft. Once she arrives she finds a fog shrouded village that is anything but inviting. It seems the town is inhabited by a strange group of denizens who in their mysterious nature seem fixated on Nan’s arrival. As her stay becomes more and more bizarre, Nan comes to find that the town is under the control of a coven of witches who are looking to her to be one of two yearly sacrifices that take place during the Witch’s Sabbath. With Nan’s brother Richard Barlow and her boyfriend Bill Maitland setting out to search for her, can they defeat this evil coven of witches or will they succumb to the terror that has plagued the town of Whitewood for the past 300 years?

Venetia Stevenson plays the role of Nan Barlow, the innocent and curious youth who stumbles onto a scenario that she can neither fathom nor predict. Stevenson is a vision and even though she disappears almost halfway through the movie, her performance and initial set up of the creepy world of The City of the Dead is enough to instill in our minds the ambient wonder and dangerous nature of the film. Though I have to admit, her absence in the second half of the movie is quite jarring, leaving me wanting more of her subtle presence. Be that as it may, we are soon introduced to a new vixen. Taking the torch from Venetia Stevenson is Betta St. John, who takes on the role of Patricia Russell the new female lead of the movie. Though not as mesmerizing as Stevenson, St. John does a wonderful job in progressing the story along. Her character actually resides in Whitewood, so her normalcy among such strange surroundings is actually rather intriguing which lends to the overall mystery of the film. When it comes to both actresses, they do a commendable job with the atmosphere of the movie and each one makes a lasting impression on the audience, though in their own special way.
Rounding out the rest of the cast is Dennis Lotis as Richard Barlow, Tom Naylor as Bill Maitland, Patricia Jessel as both Elizabeth Selwyn and Mrs. Newless, and last but not least the legendary Christopher Lee as Alan Driscoll. Though Christopher Lee’s appearance in the film is reduced to an extended cameo, he still makes his fleeting moments shine as he brings enough feeling and credibility to his role to affect the entire production. Out of all the actors above, Patricia Jessel gets the most screen time as she plays the role of the evil witch Elizabeth Selwyn and the character of Mrs. Newless the mysterious innkeeper with a secret past. I liked the maniacal way in which she carried herself and her witchlike features allow her to seamlessly morph into the character without even a hint of burden cast onto the audience in trying to imagine her wicked ways. All in all, the cast of The City of the Dead is a rather solid one.

The atmosphere of the film is also a potent one, relying a great deal on its nightmarish quality and outstanding setting to cast fear into its audience. The town of Whitewood is a picturesque view filled with haunting rustic buildings, fog covered landscapes, and an unsettling stillness that permeates every inch of the production, and the set up to all of this otherworldly style is introduced perfectly by the opening sequence of a witch being put to death. Adding to the ambiance of the picture is a cast of villagers that appear more as ghosts than of real people. There are numerous times when one of our featured cast are traversing through the village only to be quietly gawked at by silent watchers composed of various apparition-like denizens. These unsettling moments are genuinely creepy and aid in the overall tone of the story.
The film also takes a good bit of time to show us the interiors of the buildings from the quaint little bookshop to the rustic and shadow-filled inn. It’s the moments inside the inn that are especially eerie, as it is crammed with dark low lit rooms, secret passageways, and underground tunnels. The structure of the inn leads to some very memorable moments, like when Nan first discovers that the throw rug in her room covers a trap door that opens up to the sadistic cult’s underground chambers. Another visual quality of the film is in the antagonists of the story. Draped in dark hooded cloaks and armed with daggers, this coven of witches are as maleficent as they are stylishly creepy. These devilishly dressed cult followers and their iconic attire give way to an amazingly somber moment in the waning hours of this film, when we are treated to an entertaining showdown between the cult and the last remaining good guys of the film. This is all played out among the silhouetted landscape of a fog covered graveyard and it looks absolutely exquisite. There are some unbelievably beautifully shot scenes in this sequence and the epic conclusion will absolutely rock your socks off in its presentation and execution. This is pure Hammer Horror imagery here!

The City of the Dead is a sadly overlooked horror film that mixes the imagery of Krimi films with the classic presentation of the Hammer Horror greats. Basking in a world of fanciful and frightening sights, this horror entry really knows how to delivery on the visual front. The movie plays out like a cinematic tapestry of gothic infused delights, gifting each return to this eerily created Whitewood with a spine-tingling greeting. The imagery perfectly captures the witchcraft hysteria that ravaged the lands of New England during the Salem Witch Trials, and that tempered atmosphere hangs low in the air.
Saturated with class and knee deep in surreal setting, The City of the Dead is a UK production that gives its all in generating a genuinely creepy tale that features enough twists and turns, and unexpected character demises, to warrant it as one intriguing horror gem. With a more than competent cast and an endless supply of atmosphere on tap, this film is a lost treasure that I always find myself getting lost in. If you’re looking for a good witchcraft yarn and you are in need of a Halloween atmospheric boost, then give John Llewellyn Moxey’s The City of the Dead a try. The visuals alone pack quite a punch. This film is an…..

Anyone want a Witch Shish Kabob?

What do you wanna do with your life?!?!?   I WANNA ROCK!!!!!

I think you've had enough you Milk Shake-a-holic.

What are you looking at weirdo?

So it's romantic as shit in here..... wanna do it?

Christopher Lee.... you're such an enabler.

It was an interesting Children's book.

There is nothing worse than a Peeping Christopher.

Get off the road you stupid shit!

What were you born in a barn? Shut the door old man!

How romantic!

Thanksgiving is a little bit different in Whitewood.

Christopher Lee you little sneak.

Tell me my sweater is out of fashion again you son of a bitch!

What do the viewers at home think? Should we kill her?

Break it up you cross hugging pervert!

My god! Look at the size of that booger!

This movie is a real scream.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012