Friday, November 17, 2017

Barbarian Queen (1985)

Introduction:

Straight from the barbarian age of fantasy films in the 1980s comes this Roger Corman produced sword and sorcery extravaganza. I love this stuff: the awesome puppet monsters, the babes with blades, the fight choreography that ranges from decent to hilarious, the slave rebellions and the musclely heroes. Yes my friends it’s all here and it’s oh so bad and oh so good.

Summary:

Amethea (Lana Clarkson) is in her barbarian village on the day of her wedding. Everyone is happy and celebratory so we know something horrible is about to happen. Sure enough Evil Lord Arrakur (Armando Capo) rides into the village with his soldiers. They promptly slaughter all the men and carry off the women they didn't rape right there.

Amethea survives with three other deadly gals and they vow vengeance. They pursue the army having topless adventures along the way. At the Arrakur's castle they are promptly captured, stripped, and tortured or flung into a harem. Of course they escape, gather a rebel army and attack again. And yes they are mostly nude while doing all this. I’m sure Corman wouldn’t have it any other way.

Good Points:
  • Clarkson gets into the role of the sword-swinging avenger
  • Some of the action scenes and handled well
  • Gets you cheering for the barbarians to take down the vile overlord
Bad Points:
  • Some of the acting is so painfully bad
  • Very misogynistic and exploitative
  • That torture scene goes on way too long and is pretty unsavory
Overall:

I'm torn with this movie. On the one hand Lana Clarkson seems game not only diving into the battles but has no problem running around without clothes. She's not a good actress, but you can tell she's going all in. And that was the general spirit of the whole film, everyone seemed to be having a good time. The cast and crew knew exactly what type of movie they are making. But man is this movie misogynistic. Women get raped at the drop of a hat, women are tortured, women are sex objects. It gets a bit too much. The film is only 71 minutes and moves at a brisk pace, so that helps. In the end, Amethea doesn't need a man to save her butt, she does it all herself - and that was refreshing in a film like this. I got to admit I was laughing at all the ways director Hector Olivera  devised to show the maximum number of naked breasts on the screen at once.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 3
Sound: 3
Acting:  3
Script:  3
Music: 3
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

Don't let the 80s hair fool you. She is still ready
to kick ass.
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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Warrior an the Sorceress (1984)

Introduction:

This is a bad movie - no nice way to put it. It is low budget excuse to show women without clothing, have hulking men swing fake swords around and every cast member spout horrible dialogue with the skill of a plank of wood. It’s a perfect sample of no-budget 80's fantasy and produced by Roger Corman no less. So you know I’m going to have to watch it. I’m just a masochist that way.

Summary:

The Warrior (David Carradine), is never named in the film, but is billed as Kain. Seriously? Of Kung-fu fame? He carries a huge sword, scowls a lot and doesn’t say much of anything. Basically if you’ve seen Toshiro Mifune in Yojimbo then you have a pretty accurate idea of his performance. Anyway, he shows up in a village where two rival gangs are battling it out over control of the well.

On the one side is Zeg (Luk Askew) with his militant forces and captured, titular Sorceress (Maria Socas). He keeps his men in line with discipline and rage. On the other the bloated Bal Caz (William Marin) and his band of freaks and puppet monsters. This group is much more chaotic and fun loving. They remind me of Jabba the Hutt and his crew from Return of the Jedi, but with fewer puppets. Kain plays both sides against each other to save the town, save the sorceress and get a magic sword.

Good Points:
  • Carradine does a pretty good imitation of Toshiro Mifune
  • Some of the puppet creatures are funny
  • Some of the fight scenes are handled well
Bad Points:
  • Is a remake of Yojimbo or Fist Full of Dollars with no surprises
  • The acting is really wooden for most of the film
  • Missing that sense of fun that makes these films work
Overall:

Most of these 80s barbarian age flicks work for me on some level. But the Warrior and the Sorceress falls flat. Part of it is because of the lifeless performances by just about everyone. There just isn’t any energy here. The other issue is that this movie is almost a shot for shot remake of Yojimbo. Seriously, Director John C. Broderick even uses some the same camera angles and blocking. Sure, the samurai flick didn’t have a puppet dragon advisor or a four breasted slave dancer, but Kurosawa wasn’t thinking outside the box enough. The whole time I’m realizing I could be watching a samurai film classic, instead of this low budget and halfhearted remake. I quote Tom Servo from Mystery Science Theater 3000 on this one: Never remind an audience of a great movie in the middle of your crappy one.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 3
Sound: 3
Acting:  2
Script:  2
Music: 3
Direction: 2
Entertainment: 2
Total:  2

If you combined their outfits, you'd have one
complete look!
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Friday, November 10, 2017

Nostalgia Nugget: The Barbarian Age


"Don't blame me for 'Red Sonja'!"
What happens when you combine Star Wars and Dungeons and Dragons? You get Conan the Barbarian of course. Ok, so that was kind of a trick question, but there is a method to my madness.

I like to think of the early 80s as the Barbarian Age of Fantasy. Within the years of 1982 and 1985 or so, we got a ton of fantasy films that featured muscular tunic-less guys wielding swords, fighting wizards, saving the (usually topless) girl from some evil creature (who may or may not be a puppet). Some of these films were backed by big budgets and major studios.  Others were made outside of Hollywood for a pittance and forged a name for themselves in the burgeoning world of direct to VHS releases. I’ll readily admit that I have a nostalgic place in my heart for these fun and often silly films. But I always wondered what caused this sudden explosion of fantasy films that hit hard and then faded away by the time 1989 rolled around.

The 70s were rough, even for Sinbad.
Like many things that occurred around this time in film history, I think it all starts with the astounding popularity of Star Wars in 1977. Prior to that film science fiction was seen as a low profit genre for major studios. There were some hits over the years, but they were few and far between. 20th Century Fox was hoping Star Wars would bring in a quarter of what Planet of the Apes made for them in merchandising and spin offs. But I don’t think they were holding their collective breath. Instead the film exploded in popularity, and a whole new group of filmgoers were exposed as a new target audience. Make a film packed with fun adventure, exotic visuals and a rollicking sense of fun and you had something.

D&D: 80s style!
Many studios took the most obvious route here, mimicking Star Wars as best they could with their own science fiction films. Disney unleashed The Black Hole. Paramount resurrected their television series into Star Trek:The Motion Picture and even Roger Corman’s production company got into the act with Starcrash and Battle Beyond the Stars. But a few other studios decided to expand their sights outside of science fiction and target another genre that had been forgotten: fantasy films.

Fantasy was always around in some form in filmmaking. But by the time the 1970s rolled around, audiences were demanding gritty and less glitzy. Fantasy films reminded them old Hollywood. It’s not hard to see why, when you watch the films like The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad or all the sword and sandal films from the 1960s. They feel a bit stagey even if there is plenty of fun to be had with them. Not that the 70s were devoid of fantasy films. You still had movies like TheGolden Voyage of Sinbad, The Land Time Forgot and a handful of others. But they never brought in the money like other films did.

The other element that may have played a part in this was rise in popularity (infamy in some cases) of Dungeons and Dragons. The tabletop role playing game had been around for a while, but more and more folks were picking it up. Who could resist dungeon delving with your friends and slaying goblins by the dozen with fireballs? This same crowd was part of the group that made Star Wars the huge success it was. A fantasy film of the same caliber could also be a moneymaker.

Hawk's party is ready for dungeon delving.
One of the first of these new waves of fantasy films actually feels like a Dungeons and Dragons adventure brought to life. It is called Hawk the Slayer (1980) and hits all the requirements. You have a band of adventurers including a Hobbit sized thief, a towering giant, and an elf who can shoot rapid-fire arrows. Our hero, Hawk swings a sword with skill, and leads his band into a castle to face a deadly overlord played by Jack Palance. The movie is played pretty straight, but ends up being amusing because of the over the top acting, low budget special effects and wobbly sets. All in all it is one of my favorite fantasy films of the era, and I’m very sad I didn’t discover it until the 2000s. I’m not the only one who missed out on this flick, because it didn’t’ do well enough to deliver on a much hinted at sequel.

There was a breakdown in communication.
Right behind it was a bigger budget and much more impressive film, even if it did feel like a throwback to the 1950s style of filmmaking: Clash of the Titans (1981). Ray Harryhausen’s swansong features his amazing blend of stop motion animation and other visual effects that compete for screen time with Harry Hamlin’s hair and Laurence Olivier as Zeus. The movie is sluggish at times, but hits all the fantasy/mythological sweet spots. That Medusa scene manages a wonderful blend of suspense with the lighting, the effects and spine tingling music making it all work. As a kid, this movie was one of my absolute favorites, and I watched it over and over again. I wasn’t the only one, because I’ve seen quite a few writers, directors and artists talk about this movie being their gateway drug to all things Harryhausen and Greek mythology. That said, the film did Ok in its theatrical run, but not enough to convince other studios to jump on the bandwagon.

It wasn’t until the one-two punch of 1982 that we saw fantasy really take off. We got The Beastmaster and Conan the Barbarian in the same year. Both films were more entrenched in the sword and sorcery feel of pulp fiction by masters likes Robert E Howard and Fritz Leiber. The two films featured physically strong characters seeking out revenge against tyrants who slaughtered their families. Both include magic, monsters and scantily clad women aplenty. Both films avoided the stodgy feeling of the earlier Hollywood fantasy style and went for a healthy dose of blood and nudity. The two films shared many stylistic similarities, and were successful in different ways.

"Ok, which one of you stole her fur bikini?"
The Beastmaster did moderately well in theaters, but really boomed in on home video and cable reruns. It has quite a bit of humor woven into the story and while it can get violent the film never gets too dark. It didn’t have the budget for stop motion effects, so it used animal actors and creative costume and makeup to delve into the magical aspects of the story. I think there were just as many fans of Tanya Robert’s bathing scene as there were for the cute ferret companions in the film. The Beastmaster stays fun all the way through, but also keeps a pretty solid tone of adventure.

He just had to wear the helmet for tribe picture day.
Where Conan the Barbarian exceeds is in the way it makes the world feel real. The film has a darker, more serious tone, and the violence is brutal at times. It captures the untamed savagery of the original stories, even if it isn’t based on any one of them. Director Milius keeps the dialogue to a minimum, focusing on visual storytelling and avoiding some of the poor acting that would infuse later fantasy films. Let’s not forget the wonderfully primal and powerful score by composer Basil Poledouris. Conan the Barbarian would be much less effective without tracks like Anvil of Crom and Riders of Doom. This film was a big success in theaters and on home video and cable. It was this film that brought about a boom in fantasy films in the early 1980s.

"If I don't make eye contact, maybe he'll go away."
Both films did eventually have sequels and spin offs. The Beastmaster didn’t see its sequels till the 1990s, well after the fantasy boom had ended. But there were enough fans to make The Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time a success on home video and get the sequel The Eye of Braxus five years later. Conan the Destroyer managed to arrive only two years after its original film, but suffered in a major shift in tone. Going for more of a mix between Hawk the Slayer and The Beastmaster, you end up with a film that ups the humor and tones down the brutality and sensuality of the previous film. It wasn’t received well, and plans for the third film were scuttled in favor of the spin off Red Sonja a year later. Sadly that film was even worse. This is one of those films that so much potential but a weak script, a jumbled tone and bizarre performances just keep the whole thing from coming together. It’s not even that riffable.

I couldn't make this up if I tried.
But many of the films that flooded the market afterwards are very riffable indeed. It seemed like every few months a new muscular hero exploded onto screens to fight monsters and save half naked women. Some films like Ator the Fighting Eagle (1982) featuring Miles O’Keefe were lower budget retellings of Conan the Barbarian. Others went to other sources, like Corman’s The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984) which is based on Akira Kuroasawa’s Yojimbo, but with evil puppets and a four breasted witch. Sometime we got women warriors swinging swords like Hundra (1983) or Barbarian Queen (1985). In fact Corman's production company made quite a few of these films. Most popular were the Deathstalker movies, which started out as blatant Conan retells, but turned into more lighthearted films, with Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell even making it to MST3K. Speaking of the riffing puppet show, they also tackled Outlaw a sequel to the movie Gor which was based on a sword and planet series written by John Norman.Other times we got a film that managed to balance everything just about right, even on a low budget. The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982) is a lot of fun, and manages to keep things moving and amusing for most of the running time. There were oddities like the ultra-dark Dragonslayer in 1981, where baby dragons devour a helpless princess. Then there were the odd fusions of robots, and lasers with fantasy that lead to movies like Krull (1983) and the Lou Ferrigno Hercules (1983). You also had movies that were more inspired by fairy tales like Ladyhawke (1985) and of course the wonderful Princess Bride (1987). Even Arthurian legends got a new coat of paint with the dreamlike Excalibur (1981) and Sean Connery as the sparkly Green Knight in Sword of the Valiant (1984).

"I know I dropped my eight sided dice somewhere."
A few fantasy films of the era dropped the muscly barbarian archetype and went for more Dungeons and Dragons inspired fantasy. You have a movie like Wizards of the Lost Kingdom (1985) which is aimed at a younger crowd, but filled with magic and action (as well as hilariously bad dialogue, goofy costumes and some wonderfully ripe acting). The animated film The Flight of Dragons (1982) actually includes a character who loves D&D and gets pulled into a fantasy world to fight wizards and monsters. The movie The Dungeonmaster (1984) fuses arcade games (inspired by Tron) and D&D into a weird anthology-kinda film with Richard Moll chewing scenery as the titular villain. And then there is the ridiculous television movie Mazes and Monsters in which a young Tom Hanks plays a teenager whose obsession with D&D drives him insane. Hilarious for all the wrong reasons.

Eventually the interest in fantasy films died down. While many of the low budget ones did all right on home video and cable, big studios were losing money. Films like Willow (1988) necessitated a lot of money for visual effects, costumes, location shooting and even with big names behind the camera (Ron Howard directing a story conceived of by George Lucas) they movie just didn’t make as much money as they wanted. This was really the last hurrah for the fantasy boom of the 1980s, and the genre once again sunk into the mists of time outshone by cheaper to make action flicks.

Hard to say which one is making the goofier face.
In the early 90s fantasy fans had to get their fix from anime like The Heroic Legend of Arislan (1991) and my favorite of the era The Record of Lodoss War (1990) (which wore its D&D roots on its cloak). But then a funny thing happened, a little movie called Jurassic Park (1993) showed that visual effects could be made to bring a whole new dimension of realism to fantasy films. Creators didn’t have to rely on puppets or stop motion any more – CG could bring dragons to life! Sure enough we got Dragonheart in 1996 And while the film wasn’t all that good, the dragon was fairly impressive for the time (and voiced by Sean Connery no less). But it was the Lord of the Rings trilogy helmed by Peter Jackson that brought fantasy films and television to the mainstream in a big way. And while I love where we are going visually with these fantasy films, I will always enjoy taking a trip back to the Barbarian Age of fantasy.


Don't mess with the Barbarian Queen!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Score Sample: Masters of the Universe (1987)

At some point I wonder if Bill Conti wondered what the hell he was doing working on the film Masters of the Universe. Not only was the popularity of the animated series and toy line already long over by the time 1987 rolled around. But the movie was being produced by Cannon Films, not necessarily known for making quality entertainment. Check out the film Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films to find out more about some of their adventures in film making.

The movie bombed pretty hard in the box office and Cannon films was pretty much destroyed by its failure. But Bill Conti, well the guy gave it a very strong effort. Combining his heroic bombastic style, heard especially well in films like The Right Stuff with a bit of classical influences like Holst's work on The Planets. Let's not forget some likely temp tracking from John Williams Superman and Miklos Rozsa's God theme from Ben Hur and you've got something pretty impressive. Conti take the familiar elements and makes them his own in a rousing and fun fantasy score, one of the best of the decade. Much like Jerry Goldsmith's work on Lionheart it is a shame the movie is was lost to the mists of time, because the music doesn't deserve to be.

Here are the end credits to Masters of the Universe featuring a good mix of Conti's main theme, the Cosmic Key theme as well as some villainous material for Skeletor (played with relish by Frank Langella). Enjoy!



Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Bloodstone: Subspecies II (1993)

Introduction:

If you are like me, and I know I am, then you were filled with the desire to know more about the infamous Bloodstone introduced in the “hit” film Subspecies. So when the sequel was unleashed on the direct to video market there was much rejoicing. Not only would we find out more about this mysterious arcane object, but we would also be treated to more tiny demons and of course more of the terrifying Radu. Well, let’s modify expectations a bit, because this film goes in an unexpected direction. Unless you watched Subspecies and said to yourself, “You know what this movie needs? Shatner!” then you are in for a treat.

Summary:

Picking up right after the original film ends, Radu (Anders Hove) has a bit of a dilemma. His brother has decapitated him and stabbed him with a wooden stake. For any other vampire this would mean certain death. But Radu has the Subspecies at his command, and they pull his head close enough to his body so the spine can stretch out and reconnect everything in an admittedly cool looking effect. Radu rises and takes vengeance on his brother and nearly slaughters Michelle (Denice Duff taking over the role). But the sun interrupts his murder spree.

Michelle manages to escape Radu’s castle and makes for Bucharest, where she contacts her sister Rebecca (Melanie Shatner). But things don’t go quite as planned. You see, Radu is still pursuing Michelle because she has the Bloodstone, and because he created her, making her his fledging. Along the way he makes contact with his Mummy (Pamela Gordon) who gives him magical aid. Rebecca teams up with Mel (Kevin Spirtas) from the American consulate and the eccentric professor Popescu (Michael Denish). Can these three save Michelle’s tainted soul or is she doomed to walk the night forever with the Bloodstone?

Good Points:
  • Denice Duff does a good job portraying Michelle’s confusion and anguish as a new vampire.
  • The movie never takes itself too seriously, providing intentional and unintentional laughs
  • Location shooting in Romania gives the whole movie a unique feel

Bad Points:
  • The script is a mess, and character motivations are very hazy
  • Most of the scenes with Mummy are hilarious when they should be scary
  • Radu comes across as an idiot in this movie, an imposing idiot, but still an idiot

Overall:

Bloodstone improves on the previous film in some ways and is worse in others. The final product is just as entertaining but for different reasons. This movie is much less serious and going for pure entertainment. Hove still goes for the gusto as Radu, but the script turns him into a bumbling idiot for half the running time. If you enjoyed the previous film, odds are you’ll have a good time with this one. Perfect October viewing if you are in the mood for cheesy vampire fun.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 3
Script: 2
Music: 3
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 4
Total:  3

In Depth Review

Radu loves the night life. He loves to boogie in Bucharest.
Subspecies was going for a traditional gothic horror film set in modern times (the early 1990s in that case). But Bloodstone: Subspecies II is going for… um, well its not aiming totally for horror, because it is aware how cheesy it is and throws in quite a few laughs into the mix. It makes for a bit of muddled viewing experience, but one that is fun enough that you can forgive some of the missteps it makes.

One thing I really like about the film is that it is a direct continuation of the events and characters from the previous film. It almost feels like it is sticking closer to trashy horror novels or comic books in that way. Bloodstone literally starts minutes after the events of the previous film (the blood from Michelle’s dead friends is still wet on the floors of Radu’s castle). The events of this film occur over the course of a few days and it gives the film a bit of urgency.

"I'm telling you, Meatloaf stole my act!"
What helps this continuity work is Anders Hove back in the castle as Radu. Once again, Hove is all in with his performance. He is still horrific and intimidating as the fearsome vampire, looming into scenes, melting in and out of the darkness and drooling blood. Those eyes, damn are they malevolent. I’m probably going to say this in every review of the Subspecies films, but this series would have crashed and burned way sooner than it did if they didn’t have Hove as the primary antagonist. I love the way he savors each murder he is about to commit and his unleashed rage when he realizes that the Bloodstone was stolen from him. This is how a vampire should be.

Unfortunately the script doesn’t really help Hove out too much. Time and again Radu makes really dumb choices and could have easily avoided half the problems he runs into over the course of Bloodstone. I really wonder how much of this script was written days before filming, because it feels like with a bit more time and script tweaking, half of these issues could have been avoided.

Diaphanous gown? Check! You are ready to be the
vampirical bride.
Let’s just look at the first sequence in the castle as an example. So Radu is rescued by the Subspecies (in their only appearance in the film – what gives? Why name the film after them if they are barely in it? Rumor has it that the stop motion animation was too expensive to keep up, so they were dropped from the films entirely). Radu takes his revenge on Stephan (who is played by another actor who looks completely different from the original guy and is way older to boot). Now, Stephan was holding the Bloodstone, but Radu just leaves it there in the pile of slime and bones. He opens Michelle’s coffin and says “You are mine” and then proceeds to spend a good thirty seconds slowly raising his wooden stake and glowering. If he wanted her, why is threatening to kill her? Doesn’t matter because the sun comes through the window and Radu cries out in anguish and runs from the room – leaving the Bloodstone behind. Sure enough when it gets dark Michelle rises, grabs the Bloodstone and weeps a little over Stephan’s bones and her friend’s corpses. She then escapes from the castle as Radu sleeps in. You’d think the Subspecies would have woken him up or something.

The bloodstone gets and upgrade. Shame the
script didn't.
How to remedy this? Easy, have Radu kill Stephan (because seriously who cares about him, he was the weakest part of the first film), pick up the Bloodstone and gloat a bit. Then carry the stone over Michelle and taunt her with it, lording his power over her and the death of Stephan. You can even keep the “You’re mine.” line in there too. No need to threaten her with a stake. It also gives him an excuse to put the Bloodstone down next to her as he gloats in her face about his triumph, then the sun appears and he rushes off. All this keeps in character, is just as terrifying (if not more so) and allows Michelle to get a taste of the Bloodstone early on, so it makes sense why she keeps it throughout the movie.

See, I just made all that up after a few hours thought about the film. This is why I get the feeling that the messy script was written in a hurry right before filming. Because things like that happen all the way through the script and most of it impacts Radu in a negative way.

Vampire fledglings come running for the great taste
of saints' blood.
Time and again Radu is thwarted by stupid choices he makes. And as fearsome as he looks, he starts to become a less credible enemy, because he is so dumb. Again, with some script work you could have him in more of a fish out of water scenario where modern Bucharest befuddles his medieval mind and causes him to get distracted or confused. But none of that is really used either. Bloodstone seems more concerned with using him to loom in the shadows and glower, instead of actually building his character in a way that makes him a threat in the modern and medieval worlds.

Perhaps the worst offender of the weakening of Radu is the character of Mummy played with outrageous verve by Pamela Gordon. Looking like a combination of The Crypt Keeper and a deranged Mummy, the character is literally Radu’s mother. He keeps calling her, Mummy and gives her sheepish obedience. With these two actors chewing the scenery in their scenes you have some of the most entertaining sequences in the film. Mummy’s makeup effects are pretty good, she’s gross to look at, and devilishly amused by everything. But Radu’s total obedience to her reduces his fearsome nature. And the scenes are so funny that it is hard to take Mummy seriously as a threat to anyone.

Mummy gets down with her bad self.
Again with some script tweaking this character could have been something interesting and build on the horror of Radu. If he had used a spell to raise this mummified witch from the grave and have her serve him as a minion using her magic to find Michelle, or to grant him some kind of power this could have made sense. You could have kept her performance as outrageous, but dropped the mother-son dynamic and maybe even have her as a rival to Radu. Her actions to save him at the end of the film would make sense, if she was his servant and not a vampire. Anyway, Mummy is a fun character, and she adds a lot of humor to the film. It is just a shame it is at Radu’s expense.

That covers the villains of the movie, but how about our heroes? While I did like Laura Tate as Michelle in Subspecies, Denice Duff does a good job with the character in Bloodstone. She handles the desperation and fear that Michelle feels as her vampire instincts grow within her. After the events of the previous film, she is terrified of Radu (with good reason), so her constant paranoia that he is following her is handled well. I also like how Duff gives us that self-loathing at her desire for blood combined with the lust to kill. It’s a tricky mix of emotions but Duff does it well. Obscurus Lupa did give Duff some grief about crying so much in these movies, but I think it makes sense in Bloodstone. After all the shit she’s been through and dealing with now, I would think her emotions are a real mess.

"Vampires. Why did it have to be vampires?"
Melanie Shatner does a good job as the concerned sister and the newest damsel in distress as the film progresses. The movie doesn’t give her too much to work with other than concern for her sister and making googly eyes at Mel. But I do like how she has an open mind when it comes to the Romanian folklore about vampires. I also like the way she respects Professor Popescu, even when the old man keeps admitting that he is getting on in years and may not be remembering his vampire lore quite right. Shatner gives a solid performance, and would come back for Bloodlust: Subspecies III.

Fearless vampire slayers? Or posing for for the
Romanian travel brochure?
Spartas has a pretty flat role as Mel, but he does a decent job. He’s the solid hero type that falls for the cute girl. I do like how the script has him bail out near the end because it all gets too incredible and he doesn’t want to lose his job at the consulate if they find out he’s been “vampire slaying” with an old man and a cute girl. Michael Denish is pretty amusing as Professor Popescu, mixing the wise old mentor and doddering old man archetypes together in a fun character. He has some very funny interplay with Rebecca and Mel. Sometimes you think he really knows what he is talking about and then his eyes go a little mad, and you start to really wonder about him. There is also a subplot with Detective Marin played by Ion Haiduc. He’s mostly around to bumble his case and make jokes about learning his English from American cop shows. It’s another amusing character, but he kind of vanishes part way through.

Nothing brings the giggles like being evil and undead.
What annoys me about Bloodstone is the simple fact that you have this relic in the title and at times it seems like an important plot element with Radu chasing after this and Michelle coveting it. But really, it all comes to nothing. We don’t learn anything more about the Bloodstone, or what it does, or why everyone wants it (even Mummy). It just is there. At least the prop looks more impressive this time with a brass claw gripping the crystal push-pop. This feels like such a missed opportunity, the Bloodstone could have been developed into the crux of these films with Radu seeking it and unlocking its power. But it really is just a MacGuffin that goes nowhere.

Michelle stopped her blood drinking to call the
Castlevania hotline.
That said, there is a compelling story to be told in Bloodstone. Michelle as Radu’s fledging and her slow but eventually corruption should be the primary tale being told. And for the most part it is. Rebecca does hijack the film a bit with her antics with the three male characters. But when this movie really works it does because we follow Michelle in her flight from Radu, battling her cravings for blood, and eventually succumbing to her hunger and killing a heavy metal fan. Her disgust and fear of herself and eventual fear for her sister are handled really well. It also gives the Bloodstone a reason for being something Michelle needs. She can sate her hunger with the stone and not harm anyone doing it.

I also like the finale where Radu has captured Rebecca and threatens to destroy the sister in front of Michelle – severing her last link to humanity. A more interesting approach may have been to force Michelle to drink from Rebecca and by killing her sister destroying everything good within Michelle. But that is just my twisted mind at work. In any case, these elements of the story are effective and with a tighter script this sequel could have surpassed the original as an examination of Michelle’s fall and Radu’s pursuit.

Two sisters separated by darkness.
What we get with Bloodstone is a messier movie all the way around. But I still had a great time watching it. The location shooting in Romania is still very impressive. Director Ted Nicolaou does a great job of making Bucharest look creepy and threatening at times. There are some excellent scenes of Radu’s shadow rising, moving and overwhelming the screen, just as effective as it was in Nosferatu. The music is nice and gothic and the sound effects support the action. It makes for a solid night of bloodsucking entertainment. You may even find yourself quoting Radu and his Mummy from time to time afterwards. Bloodstone is light on actual scares, but very entertaining any way. Recommended if you are in the mood for some cheese on a chilly October night.


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The finger demons are going to play tether-ball
on Radu's corpse.


Radu plays hide and seek with Michelle. He's not very
good.


"Do you think you cold get your dad to sign this napkin?"


Even the graffiti in Bucharest is vampire themed.


"Seriously, look at these hands. You know what they
say about a guy with big hands, right?"


Radu's got a headache this big, and it has Michelle written
all over it.


"Van Helsing? I taught him everything he knew."


"I can make some awesome shadow puppets.
You wanna see?"


Would you trust this guy to save your sister's soul?

Friday, October 27, 2017

And Then This Happened... Bloodstone: Subspecies II

You would think that being a very old and powerful vampire that you'd be able to take care of a few silly coeds and your annoying but wimpy brother. But as we saw in Subspecies, Radu just wasn't able to manage it. Luckily he has some help from this friends, who also manage to rate so highly in the minds of the creators that they named the series after them. Still not sure why, but I digress. In any case Radu's little buddies are able to come around and give him a hand. Otherwise we wouldn't have a sequel, right. But I think there might be some more conversation going on here than was originally revealed in the film. What do you think they are saying?

And then this happened...


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Cat People (1942)

Introduction:

It seems like more and more fans of classic films are finding the work of director Jacques Tourneur and producer Val Lewton. These two created some excellent horror films for RKO in the 1940s. I didn’t hear much about these for a long time, but a revival seemed to take place in the 2000s where these films were brought back up in conversations. I caught them on a marathon on TCM a few years back and finally picked up four of them for my collection. The first and maybe the most famous is this film from 1942.

Summary:

Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) is a recent immigrant from Serbia. She is artistic but quiet and shy, living by herself in an apartment. One day, while she is sketching a black panther at the zoo she meets Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) a handsome young man. The two fall head over heels for each other, even if Irena’s strange superstitions make Oliver chuckle.

But after they marry, Oliver realizes that Irena’s fears have taken over her life. She is convinced that if she feels any strong emotions including hate, jealousy or lust, she will transform into a monstrous black panther and go on a killing spree. Oliver discusses his problems with his coworker, Alice (Jane Randolph) who recommends a Dr. Judd (Tom Conway) as a therapist for Irena. As the three attempt to work with Irena she falls further and further into a paranoia fugue state. But is the shadow stalking Alice really a panther? If so, is it an escapee from the zoo, or is Irena really one of the Cat People?

Good Points:
  • Simone Simon’s performance sells the whole film
  • Builds tension and dread with style
  • Keeps you guessing as to what is actually happening

Bad Points:
  • May be too heavy on conversation for some viewers
  • Looking non stop thrills and action – keep looking
  • If you aren’t a fan of atmospheric horror – keep looking

Overall:

This movie does a fine job of creating a fascinating character with Irena and following her journey into darkness. Simone Simon’s performance is excellent and you end up caring about and fearing for her. All along the way the other characters try to help but their actions only seem to make things worse. It does a fine job of building to its conclusion. A really well made classic horror film.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 4
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music:  3
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total: 4

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.


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