Monday, October 25, 2021

Ten Days of Terror!: Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

Film: Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on the new portable.

For some reason, Hammer horror films resonate with me. I like that they tried to maintain that idea of Gothic sensibilities for as long as they did while slowly ramping up the weirdness and violence of the films. Early Hammer certainly had some violence and some blood, but by the time the studio started to fade, they were getting more desperate, and thus were going to further extremes. Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell is a film that gives the 1970s gorehound everything they would want. There’s blood, there’s brains, there’s eyeballs, and even surgery. It may be ultimately tame by today’s standards (at least in terms of gore), but for the time, it was pretty out there.

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell is very late in the Hammer pantheon, one of the last half dozen or so films the studio made until it was revived a dozen or so years ago. This means we’re going to go to some extremes here for the gore that will be on display. It’s almost quaint in the sense that in the year The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was released, Hammer was thinking that the height of horror was watching Peter Cushing and Shane Briant extract a brain from a corpse.

Ten Days of Terror!: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed

Films: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
Format: DVD from Putnam County Library through interlibrary loan on various players.

In some respect, a Frankenstein story has to follow some very basic plot moments. We don’t specifically need someone named Victor Frankenstein, but we do need someone who is going to attempt to bring the dead back through reanimation in some way or another. Typically, what we really want for the traditional story is for someone to manufacture a new body cobbled together out of the parts of other dead bodies. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is going to deviate from that in significant ways, which leads to an important question: If the main character in a Frankenstein story doesn’t actually create a body to reanimate, is it really a Frankenstein story?

Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is forced out of his native Bohemia and winds up at a boarding house in Austria-Hungary. The boarding house is run by Anna Spengler (Veronica Carlson), whose fiancé Dr. Karl Holst (Simon Ward) works at the nearby insane asylum. It just so happens that one of the inmates at the asylum is Dr. Frederick Brandt (George Pravda), Frankenstein’s former assistant who had a breakdown and went mad because of the experiments he was forced to be a part of.

Ten Days of Terror!: The Evil of Frankenstein

Films: The Evil of Frankenstein
Format: DVD from Nippersink District Library through interlibrary loan on The New Portable.

As a teacher, I don’t let my students use Wikipedia as a reference. That said, I use it all the time myself for this blog. It’s handy for checking plot points when I go through these posts, making sure I know who was who and who did what. That habit causes me some interesting realizations now and then. When I looked up The Evil of Frankenstein on Wikipedia, I discovered that this scant little 84-minute movie was packed with a surprising amount of stuff. The plot summary is ten paragraphs long. What this means is that I’ll be condensing quite a bit, because no movie with this short of a running time needs to have that much stuff going on in it.

We open on a body snatching, where the body snatcher takes the corpse to none other than Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) himself. Working with Frankenstein is his henchman/assistant Hans (Sandor Ellis). Frankenstein removes the heart from the corpse, hooks it up to machinery, and soon enough he’s got that heart a-pumpin’ on its own. Sadly for him, a local many of the clergy shows up in his lab and starts trashing the place. Dr. F. just can’t catch a break, so he and Hans run off. It’s here that we get a long flashback about Frankenstein’s attempt to create the monster (played both in the flashback and the current time by Kiwi Kingston). It was kind of successful, kind of not, and his monster goes on a loopy ol’ monster rampage and eventually the Baron is run off.

Ten Days of Terror!: The Kiss of the Vampire

Films: The Kiss of the Vampire
Format: DVD from Nippersink District Library through interlibrary loan on basement television.

The 1960s Hammer horror movies feel like the last gasp at making the sort of old-school Gothic horror of the classic Universal films. There’s an attempt here to be scary in the way those films were. They aren’t truly scary, not truly horrific or the kind of film that induces nightmares, but they are absolutely horror movies and nothing else. There’s a sort of malevolence in many of these movies, especially the ones that deal with vampires. There’s often some sympathy for Frankenstein’s monster or werewolves, but Hammer vampires are evil. That’s clearly the case in The Kiss of the Vampire.

We open with a burial scene that ends with father of the buried girl slamming a shovel through the coffin to more or less stake her. And, since there’s blood from the coffin and a scream, it’s a good bet that she was a vampire after all. Following this opening, we’re introduced to Gerald (Edward de Souza) and Marianne Harcourt (Jennifer Daniel). They are a newlywed couple traveling in a new horseless carriage (this being roughly fin de siècle and vaguely Europe-ish). The car runs out of gas, stranding them in southern Germany.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Ten Days of Terror!: Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

Films: Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I would guess that if you are a fan of the Friday the 13th series, that you look on the aspects of it that are consistent from film to film as aspects of the franchise, not evidence of laziness. With Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, the only real difference we’re going to have is the venue. Otherwise, this is an extremely straightforward slasher where Jason kills a bunch of teens and a collection of adults in a variety of ways.

It’s worth noting right off the bat that this film is misnamed. Jason does not, in fact, take Manhattan. He eventually gets to Manhattan, but the entire first half or more of the movie (at least the killing parts) take place on a ship. We don’t get to New York until there’s well under halfway done.

Ten Days of Terror!: Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood

Films: Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen

I’m sitting here, starting at the laptop wondering what there is to say about Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood. Ultimately, this film series is a collection of murders committed by undead serial killer Jason Voorhees. It’s what we’ve come for and it’s what we’re going to get. We’ll have a collection of teens or early 20-somethings who will get picked off one by one until we get a confrontation with Jason and our final girl. Sandwich the dozen or so kills will be a way to bring Jason back from the dead and, naturally, a way to temporarily put him away.

This time, Jason is going to get something like actual competition since our final girl is a psychic. The film was pitched as Jason vs. Carrie, and while that sounds appealing, or at least interesting, the actual film is quite a bit less so. It’s going to suffer from many of the same problems as a few other films in the series—the kills essentially happen off-screen in the sense that we don’t actually see the moment of impact in many cases. This was evidently done to avoid the inevitable X-rating.

Ten Days of Terror!: Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI

Films: Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen

A series of films, particularly one that went on for as long as the Friday the 13th series, has ups and downs. The fifth entry in the series is one of the clear low points, existing as it does essentially out of the continuity of the rest of the series and having the larger indignity of not having Jason Voorhees as the killer. Well, things get back on track with the sixth installment, Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (sometimes reversing the order of the title elements as Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives). As the title suggests, we’re going to get Jason back. Additionally, a lot of what makes Jason who he is—the un-re-killable undead murder machine with unlimited strength—is going to come from this movie.

We start with Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews) once again. As with the non-continuity film previously, Tommy is in his late teens. Needing closure concerning Jason, he shows up at the gravesite with his friend Allen (Ron Palillo) with the intent of opening the grave, dousing Jason’s body with gasoline, and lighting him on fire to deal with the body once and for all. Once the grave is open, Tommy is going to have a little meltdown, and he attacks the body with piece of metal fencing. And, naturally, it’s starting to storm. Tommy leaves the fence piece in Jason’s body, it gets struck by lightning, and, Frankenstein’s monster-like, Jason is reborn. He kills Allen right away, but Tommy escapes. The rest of the movie is exactly what you think it’s going to be: Jason hunts for Tommy while killing everything else that gets in his way.