Yay! I’m finally on vacation!

Mural begins

Woohoo! Sorry but posts are sporadic this week as I flee this dreary winter for sunny Mexico. I leave you a picture essay of the mural a friend of ours did for our wall over the course of many months. This is his rendition of the poster for the Hammer movie, Quatermass and the Pit (1967). This movie was known as Five Million Years to Earth here in the States.

Mural and cat

 

Partially finished mural with Chupacabra (happy cat according to our granddaughter), Chupa is sitting on my 60-in-1 cocktail arcade machine. The arcade machine is a wonderful showpiece and everyone who sees it, loves it but it turns out that the fun is mostly nostalgic. I play a few times a week for a brief bit of fun so that was a bit of extravagance.

More mural

Art and mural

 

Art finishing up his wonderful mural.

Final mural

 

Final mural.

The Woman in Black 2 – Angel of Boredom

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death is currently in theaters

Woman in Black 2

 

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2015) – Rated PG-13

40 years after the first haunting at Eel Marsh House, a group of children evacuated from WWII London arrive, awakening the house’s darkest inhabitant.”

One Line Review: Boo! Boo! Boo! Boo! Are you scared yet? Well, boo.

I will trust that seeing the official first film of 2015 did not set the tone for the rest of the year. Historically, January is the dumping ground for Hollywood’s dross as well as the expansion of the December limited release films/Oscar bait. The Woman in Black 2 is no exception.

The Woman in Black was a nice atmospheric horror thriller from the new Hammer. Daniel Radcliffe centered it nicely without channeling his Harry Potter persona at all. It was not a classic and not even the best of the new Hammer (that would be Let Me In) but it was quite enjoyable.

The sequel is interestingly set during the London Blitz of World War II. This gives the screenwriter a very good reason to re-occupy Eel Marsh house with a group of children and a couple caretakers.

Eel Marsh, both the location and the house, are quite eerie. The movie is professionally shot and acted. The premise is sound, the setting well-chosen, and the Woman mysterious. What could go wrong?

The easy answer is the remarkably schizophrenic direction. The direction sucks all the life out of the proceedings, making this a dull, uninteresting affair. As if realizing this, every few minutes the director throws in a jump scare, often for no reason other than to jolt the viewer awake. Imagine if you were at home in bed and every time you were about to fall asleep, a family member jumped out of nowhere and yelled “Boo!” before disappearing again. It would not be long before you rolled your eyes, got annoyed, and disinherited that family member.

Another problem with the film is the usual teen-friendly PG-13 rating. The film is about a group of children being terrorized, yet at no point do we fear for the children’s safety, with the exception of the mean bully who is contractually bound to get his comeuppance. Again any violence is subbed out for simple boo scares.

Some More Movie Displays

First, Art finally finished my movie room mural and it is gorgeous.

Quatermass

 

Quatermass and the Pit is my favorite Hammer horror movie, which seems odd given that it stars neither Peter Cushing nor Christopher Lee. Obviously others feel the same way as the out-of-print U.S. DVD fetches ridiculous prices. It is much cheaper to buy a British DVD compatible player and order the British DVD from Amazon UK.

Transformers

 

Darling granddaughter in front of Transformers display…

Train Your Dragon

 

…and the one she is really interested in, How to Train Your Dragon 2.

The Not-So-Quiet Ones

The Quiet Ones is still playing in theaters.

The Quiet Ones

 

The Quiet Ones (2014) – Rated PG-13

A university professor and a team of students conduct an experiment on a young woman, uncovering terrifyingly dark, unexpected forces in the process.”

The old Hammer was my favorite movie studio growing up. Quatermass and the Pit and The Gorgon are my two favorite Hammer movies. Their horror catalog was impressive, even if they did continually recycle their big guns. More than a half dozen each of Dracula and Frankenstein movies as well as several Karnstein and Mummy films were made before Hammer died in the mid-1970s.

The modern iteration of Hammer is doing a lot to maintain a higher level of quality than average for horror movies. The Resident was a bit of a letdown, although it was nice to see Christopher Lee back in horror. Wake Wood and The Woman in Black were entertaining albeit flawed. Let Me In was the rare remake that was better than the original.

Their latest effort, The Quiet Ones, sadly bills itself as based on a true story. That is usually a sign that I’m not going to enjoy it. It stars Jared Harris, an excellent character actor who deserves more starring roles. He is quite good here though even he can’t rescue some rather bizarre directorial choices.

The story itself is rather boring and bland, two words commonly associated with the ‘based on a true story’ moniker. Is the woman faking it? Is she telekinetic? Is she possessed? Is there some other explanation for the (very minor) events occurring?

Unfortunately, director John Pogue chooses to spice things up with jump scares that were old when slashers were young. Constantly not knowing when the movie is going to suddenly increase in volume for no purpose is initially annoying and raises to grating after about a half dozen of these cheap boos.

The Quiet Ones isn’t bad and Jared Harris is much better than the material, it just isn’t good either.

Hammer’s next endeavor is called Gaslight and the premise sounds intriguing: “Secretly imprisoned in a London insane asylum, the infamous Jack the Ripper helps Scotland Yard investigators solve a series of grisly murders whose victims all share one thing in common: dual puncture wounds to the neck.”

This will be followed by a sequel to The Woman in Black entitled The Woman in Black: Angel of Death.

Warner Archive Final Report

WB Archive Instant

The Warner Instant Archive FREE trial is a great deal. Despite some technical issues, there is a lot to like here if you like movies from the 20s-80s (fans of more modern fare need not apply). The Roku setup is simple though you must follow the instructions on Warner’s website to add the private channel.

Roku

Sadly this does not mean the channel itself is a good deal. Unless you are a devout cinephile, you can probably blow through all the content you want to see on Warner Archive during the trial. Price after that is $9.99 a month. I can imagine revisiting this in a year as Warner has an extensive back catalog that is much larger than their Warner Instant Archive.

Man from UNCLE

They do have a number of television shows available that I did not sample. The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Cheyenne, The Jimmy Stewart Show, Hawaiian eye, Jericho (1966), 77 Sunset Strip, and The Adventures of Superman are all on tap here. Their currently most popular movies are (strangely in alphabetic order) Attack of the 50 ft. Woman, Bachelor in Paradise, The Carey Treatment, Give a Girl a Break, Harper, Kansas City Bomber, Keeper of the Flame, Lone Star, Madame Satan, The Mayor of Hell, The Prize, The Racket, A Slight Case of Murder, Strange Cargo, What’s Up, Doc?.

If you do try Warner Instant Archive, do watch Time After Time, a very entertaining story of H.G. Wells tracking Jack the Ripper.

The Mummy

The Mummy (1959) – “In the 1890s a team of British archaeologists discover the untouched tomb of Princess Ananka but accidentally bring the mummified body of her High Priest back to life. Three years later back in England a follower of the same Egyptian religion unleashes the mummy to exact grisly revenge on the despoilers of the sacred past.

I own this Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee classic on DVD but Warner Archive has it in HD. I watched it and, if you have the bandwidth, it does look much prettier. They also have Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula in HD.

Countess Dracula

Countess Dracula is currently available on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Countess Dracula (1971) – Rated PG

“This Hammer Productions cult classic stars Ingrid Pitt as Elisabeth, a countess who discovers that the blood of young virgins can restore her fading beauty. Her twisted lover, Captain Dobi (Nigel Green), is happy to keep her in supply. But soon, the town begins to miss its nubile residents, and Dobi becomes enraged when he learns that Elisabeth has been posing as her own daughter in order to seduce a younger man.”

The tale of Countess Elizabeth Bathory has gained a fair amount of attention lately with two competing versions released in the past few years, Bathory, Countess of Blood (2008) starring Anna Friel and The Countess (2009) starring Julie Delpy. I still prefer 1971’s Countess Dracula.

Hammer took a page out of AIP’s Poe book and named this Countess Dracula to tie it in with their popular series of Dracula movies. As is typical of their 1970s output, Hammer lays on the gore and nudity. It may seem quaint today but I am surprised that it got a PG rating.

I loved how they showed the royalty’s callous disregard for the peasants right after the credits. The painting showed in that credit sequence is by Hungarian Istvan Csok and depicts the legend of Countess Bathory. This detail and many others in the production are courtesy of Hungarians Alexander Paal (producer) and Peter Sasdy (director). They had always wanted to adapt the legend of the Blood Countess to the screen and they wrote the story before passing it off to Jeremy Paul to do the screenplay.

The Avengers’ Diana Rigg was offered the title role. When she turned it down, Hammer turned to their Vampire Lovers star Ingrid Pitt. As in Vampire Lovers, Ingrid is quite good at being bad. The makeup artists do quite a nice job at making her older (and progressively uglier each time the blood wears off). Pitt was quite upset however to discover that her thick accent caused her to be dubbed over by another actress, Olive Gregg.

Nigel Green turns in a wonderful performance in what is essentially a henchman role. The only problem is that his performance is so much better than those around him that it can show them in a bad light. He has a tendency to steal the show, whether as Colour-Sergeant Bourne in Zulu or Hercules in Jason and the Argonauts. I felt for him as his Captain Dobi loved the Countess as she was before regaining her youth but once she regained her youth, she chases after the young Lt. Toth (Sandor Eles, another Hungarian emigre).

People Watch: A young Lesley Anne Down plays the Countess’ daughter. She would go on to fame as Georgina in Upstairs, Downstairs. She later starred in The Great Train Robbery, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, and The Sphinx.

It’s a Blood Bath! The Countess is on a Rampage!

I had to laugh when I saw this. Netflix streaming has three different movies telling the exact same story – that of the Countess Bathory. I very much enjoyed the Hammer version (Countess Dracula) but I have yet to watch the two newer versions.

Countess Dracula (1971) – Rated PG

“This Hammer Productions cult classic stars Ingrid Pitt as Elisabeth, a countess who discovers that the blood of young virgins can restore her fading beauty. Her twisted lover, Captain Dobi (Nigel Green), is happy to keep her in supply. But soon, the town begins to miss its nubile residents, and Dobi becomes enraged when he learns that Elisabeth has been posing as her own daughter in order to seduce a younger man.”

Bathory, Countess of Blood (2008) – Rated R

“While her husband is off battling the Turks, 16th-century countess Erzsébet Bathory fights to protect her family and her land, woos the Italian artist Caravaggio and endures vicious rumors that she bathes in the blood of virgins.”

The Countess (2009) – Not Rated

“Blaming her advancing age for a failed romance with a younger man, 16th-century Hungarian countess Erzebet Báthory begins murdering virgin girls and bathing in their blood, believing that the grim ritual will restore her youthful beauty.”

It’s Hammer Time plus Liam Neeson Among the Wolves

I’ve had mixed feelings about the new Hammer films. I have seen three of their four new offerings. The Resident was not very good, Wake Wood had an intriguing premise but was flawed, but Let Me In was a magnificent remake of Let the Right One In. I missed The Woman in Black but look forward to catching it down the line.

Hammer Films now has a YouTube channel. They plan to rotate some of their older films. Currently you can view these films in their entirety: Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter (1974), The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), The Man in Black (1950), Dick Barton Special Agent (1948), and The Last Page aka Man Bait (1952). The Quatermass Xperiment is wonderful, Captain Kronos is fun (and you can see where they hoped it would be a series) but I have not watched the other three.

* Whoops! Apparently The Quatermass Xperiment and Captain Kronos are blocked in the United States.

The Hammer Films channel also has trailers and featurettes but is still a work in progress. I really like the restoration work they are doing before releasing their back catalog on Blu-Ray. Unfortunate not in the United States as yet and they are far too expensive for me to start importing. I’d have to find a region-free Blu-Ray player as these are region-locked and then they would cost me 10-17 pounds apiece plus shipping.

Compare that price to The Ultimate Hammer Collection on DVD. The collection costs 26 pounds but for that you get 21 movies including my favorite (and long out of print in the U.S.) Quatermass and the Pit. I bought a region-free DVD player and this set and it was still cheaper than buying the out of print Quatermass.

I sure hope the Blu-Rays will come over here at some point. Until then I will have to content myself with Synapse’s Twins of Evil Blu-Ray and perhaps I’ll even spring for Vampire Circus.

If you are patiently awaiting Taken 2 in theaters then try Liam Neeson’s latest manly manfest The Grey – now streaming on Netflix.

After narrowly surviving a deadly plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness, a band of oil riggers must fend for their lives in the ice and snow. But thanks to wolves that view their presence as a threat, they aren’t alone.”

Birthdaypalooza, Vincent Price, & Hammer

Well I’m officially one year closer to my end of days. I did enjoy a wonderful birthday though having lunch with my wife and daughter at my favorite Mexican restaurant, Papa’s & Beer (Carnitas Fajitas, Horchada, and Flan for dessert – delicious) followed by a $3 movie at Cinebarre (Dark Shadows – not so good).

The evening’s entertainment was Doc Chey’s (Spicy basil noodles with chicken) with my wife followed by dessert at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge (Chocolate Mocha Stout cake – good, vanilla milkshake – not so good) with some dear friends. My dear friends were not supposed to know it was my birthday but Jen let it slip. They brought me a magnificent addition to my movie books.

A few years ago my wife bought me this wonderful book on the history of Hammer studios. It is chockful of wonderful photographs and provides wonderful detail on a wide variety of Hammer movies – though mostly their horror and science fiction offerings. I think author Marcus Hearn achieved the perfect balance of knowledge and entertainment to make this not only a wonderful, breezy read but also a suitable coffeetable book.

The Hammer Story apparently did very well because Marcus Hearn followed it up in 2009 with Hammer Glamour, an oversized hardcover about the wonderful ladies in the Hammer movies. In 2010 Hearn released another oversized hardcover, The Art of Hammer, that is dedicated to the poster art of Hammer films. I’m not sure if he’s done yet but last year Hearn released The Hammer Vault (yes I think the title should be The Vault of Hammer but that’s not my decision), a compendium of rare material that Hearn had not yet released.

“This remarkable journey through the Hammer Vault includes props, annotated script pages, unused poster artwork, production designs, rare promotional material and private correspondence. Hundreds of rare and previously unseen stills help to create a rich souvenir of Hammer’s legacy, from the X certificate classics of the 1950s to the studio’s latest productions.

Written and compiled by the official Hammer Films historian Marcus Hearn, and featuring exclusive contributions from the actors and filmmakers associated with the company, this is the most lavish book ever published on the legendary House of Horror. “

I haven’t bought any of these books because I have yet to read my copy of Universal Studios Monsters. Our dear friends bought me The Hammer Vault and I was quite thrilled. I’m looking forward to reading it so much that I’ll probably just skip the Universal book for now.

My mother-in-law absolutely overwhelmed me this year. My movie room is plastered with literally hundreds of movie posters and placards but they were all modern and the vast majority were FREE from the movie theaters over the last few years (three of the four walls are covered in 12×18 plain black frames to hold the 11×17 posters).

For my birthday, my mother-in-law bought me the above original poster for The Last Man on Earth (she knows I love Vincent Price). I don’t want to know what she spent on it as I know collecting old movie posters is well beyond our means. We’re having it professionally framed (yikes!) and I’ll post a before and after in a few weeks. My eldest daughter also got me The Lord of the Rings trilogy on Blu-Ray in steelbook from Best Buy. I don’t know why but I do love those steelbook cases.

All in all a pretty sweet birthday.

Hammer Time – Wake Wood

I love old Hammer horror movies. In honor of the new Hammer’s release of The Woman in Black with Daniel Radcliffe, I thought I would take a look at some of what the new Hammer has put out. Wake Wood is currently available on instant Netflix.

Wake Wood (2011) – Rated R

“After losing their only child, Alice, in a vicious dog attack, two grieving parents relocate to a small town where — to their horror and fascination — they discover a pagan ritual that will grant them three more days with their deceased daughter. Hoping to allay their sorrow, at least temporarily, the couple decides to go through with the rite, but the larger question remains, what happens after the three days have passed?”

Strangely even though this was produced by the new Hammer studios, the opening credits list Exclusive Film Distribution, The Irish Film Board, Vertigo Films, Solid Entertainment, Film I Skane and Fantastic Films but not Hammer. Thinking that I had erred I checked imdb and Hammer is indeed a producer but apparently this is a very mixed bag production.

Aiden Gillen and Eva Birthistle play the grieving parents. Aiden hasn’t hit it big yet but you’re likely to recognize him as Tommy Carcetti from The Wire or more recently as Littlefinger on Game of Thrones. Eva is more often seen in BBC productions like The Last Enemy, The State Within, and Waking the Dead. Both are very likeable and engaging as they try to put their lives back together in a new town following the tragic death of their daughter.

Veteran character actor Timothy Spall (Wormtail to you Harry Potter fans) is a lot of fun as Arthur, the village patriarch. Movies like this often hinge on whether the child actor is cute/capable (Dakota Fanning) or annoying/wooden (Jake Lloyd). It also helps if the kid is a little creepy. Ella Connolly does a fine job as the doomed Alice.

While Wake Wood is an obvious re-imagining of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, I really liked the different direction the script takes off in. Brendan McCarthy and director David Keating adapted the screenplay from McCarthy’s story.

The atmosphere is quite good and, even though it is not a period setting, is somewhat reminiscent of old Hammer films. The action sequences are not particularly well done and the dog attack is rather unconvincing but the acting, story, and atmosphere add up to a recommendation. That said the movie is a bit slow-moving and there are a few gory bits.

People Watch: Brian Gleason, son of wonderful actor Brendan Gleason, plays Martin O’Shea.