Retro Cinema: ‘The House That Dripped Blood’

When people think of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, they think of legendary film studio Hammer. But there was another British film studio that liked to pair the two in horror movies, Amicus films, who put out some great horror anthologies. Not only did we have the House of Hammer, but the House of Amicus, and like it’s better known rival, Amicus was a house that dripped plenty of blood.

One of the best anthologies produced by Amicus was “The House That Dripped Blood.” This four-part anthology featured Cushing and Lee, although they performed in separate segments. It also featured legendary Hammer vixen Ingrid Pitt, vamping it up in her typical fashion. Basically, that woman just played herself in each of her roles, with “herself” being utterly fabulous with her long cigarette holders and plenty of cleavage.

The first of the four segments features a writer and his wife who move into the old house that serves as a backdrop connecting the four stories. He wants to finish his novel about a vicious murderer. Problem is, it seems his murderer is coming to life and stalking him and his wife. Sounds very Stephen King, doesn’t it? Well, this was before Stephen King made it big, as the film was produced in 1970. Although one has to wonder if this didn’t inspire “The Dark Half” just a little bit. For the record it was Robert Bloch who wrote these stories.

Anyway, writers in particular will get a kick out of the whole writing process and the way writers tend to try to make their characters so real — Sometimes a little too real. The Dominic character is very sinister on the page and as a flesh and blood stalker. And oh, that creepy laugh.

Is he real or is he just a figment of the writer’s imagination? Watch it and find out the twist at the end.

Then we move into the second segment, with Cushing looking mighty sharp in a red smoking jacket… so elegant and refined. As he listens to his classical music and goes through his theater programs, he comes upon a photo of a beautiful woman and walks into town looking quite lovelorn. He happens upon a “Museum of Horror” and decides to check it out.

As he wanders around the museum, which is basically a waxworks, he comes upon a rather interesting display of Salome with the head of John the Baptist on a platter. And this Salome seems to have a mesmerizing effect on Cushing… Her eyes remind him of the woman in the photo he was looking at earlier.

“She is beautiful isn’t she? My Salome…” says the proprietor out of the blue. Where did that guy come from? “Perhaps she reminds you of someone? You see, she has a strange effect on people. They seem to see in her all sorts of things.”

As it turns out, not only does she remind Cushing of his long-lost love, but she’s modeled after the proprietor’s deceased wife, who he says was a murderess who was executed for her crime. So he created the tribute to her to preserve her beauty for all time.

Suffice it to say that dead or not, he doesn’t take too kindly to other men ogling his deceased wife. First, he takes out his jealous rage on a friend of Cushing’s who stops in after a visit, then on Cushing himself when he finds he can’t stay away.

That’s quite a woman, wax or not.

The third segment features Lee, as a rather uptight widower and father of a young girl. Seems his little girl has an unnatural fear of fire, and Lee has a rather unnatural fear of just what powers this little girl might possess. Seems Mama dabbled in some of the dark arts, so Lee doesn’t like to have any dolls around the house. Unfortunately, the young woman he hires to tutor the little girl doesn’t really quite understand the complexities of the situation, and when he destroys the doll given to his daughter as a gift, she doesn’t just get mad, she gets even with Daddy.

This old house has a whole lot of old books, and some of those books have some witchy spells in them. Mix that with some candles melted down to make a brand-new doll, and I think you see where this is going. It doesn’t end well.

The final story of the anthology is where Pitt finally gets to shine. An actor moves into the house and his current role is playing a vampire in a horror film. He hates the cheesy sets and the bad, fake looking costumes, so he takes upon himself to find his own vampire cloak. He goes to a vintage clothing an antique store and finds a something much more real. Little does he know how real it is.

But when he puts on the cloak on set, funny things happen. Funny, as in him sprouting fangs and trying to bite his costars. But no one seems to believe him when he tries to tell them the cloak has magical powers to turn him into a vampire, least of all Pitt. When he sets out to prove to her that the cloak is real, let’s just say he’s in for quite a surprise.

All four stories of this anthology featured great actors, great stories and some really creepy moments. You can’t go wrong with Lee and Cushing, even outside the Hammer franchise. If you haven’t heard of Amicus before, I strongly suggest you not only check out this movie, but some of their other titles as well: Another big favorite of mine is their feature film “The Skull,” featuring Cushing. You may have a great Hammer collection, but your horror collection is far from complete without some Amicus, as well.

 

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‘Near Dark’ brilliantly mixes westerns and vampires

near dark vampire movie caleb and mae

Near Dark just may be one of my favorite vampire films ever. This little horror sleeper features Lance Henriksen, which gets you off to a pretty good start right there. Throw in Bill Paxton, the criminally-underrated Jenette Goldstein, a Tangerine Dream soundtrack, a forbidden romance, cowboy vampires and have Kathryn Bigelow direct it all and you have the recipe for greatness.

In addition to adding the unconventional twist of combining the Western with a vampire film, Bigelow expertly handled how to do a vampire romance right. You have elements of forbidden love, a family that doesn’t like the boy you brought home, but it doesn’t fall into tweenie, puppy love drivel. It’s sort of a westernized, modern-day Romeo and Juliet. Or something like that.

All I know is that this movie is the shit.

near dark vampire western

Bigelow directed Near Dark long before her Oscar-winning days and even before her cult classic Point Break. I believe this wasn’t long after she divorced mega-successful director James Cameron, and she “borrowed” some of the actors he’s used in his films, including Goldstein with a small part in Titanic as well as Bill Paxton. She also throws James LeGros a small part in this film, who would go on to play one of the bank robbers in Point Break.

This film has a real dark, moody, gritty feel to it and the romance between Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) and Mae (Jenny Wright) feels real. Mae makes you want Caleb to run off with her forever, foregoing his human life for the eternal thrill of running with the night. It’s hard to capture in words in a review, but when Mae tells Caleb to listen to the night, you feel that lure of the inhuman freedom that’s being offered to him.

near dark vampire movie

Henriksen and the rebel family he’s created are true sociopathic desperados, especially Paxton’s character with his jugular splitting spurs and sick humor. It’s all just perfectly woven together, and proves you don’t need a big budget or special effects to make an amazing movie.

This is simply a must-see film not only for horror fans, that anyone with a remote interest in the genre.

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Retro Cinema: ‘Silver Bullet’

Retro Cinema: ‘Silver Bullet’

How can you go wrong when you mix Stephen King, Gary Busey, and one of the Coreys? Trick question… You can’t go wrong. Plus if you add in a few werewolves, and some campy gore, you’ve got a big bundle of 80s horror known as “Silver Bullet.”

Corey Haim plays Marty, a boy stuck in a wheelchair that’s been dubbed the Silver Bullet. The story is narrated by his older sister, Jane (Megan Follows), reminiscing about the past. But in the present the story’s set in, she pretty much feels that he’s a pain in the butt. That starts to change and they find themselves coming together when people in their small town are turning up not only dead, but ripped to pieces. And the murders are metaphorically ripping the town apart as well.

When Marty’s best friend becomes the latest victim, the townsfolk seek some vigilante justice and want to hunt down whoever — or whatever — is killing people, despite pleas from the local sheriff. Of course, they go out hunting it at night. During a full moon.

Do I really need to tell you how that’s going to end? Yeah.

When Uncle Red (Busey) comes to visit Marty and Jane, that’s when things get really interesting. After Uncle Red builds Marty a supercharged motorized wheelchair and gives him some fireworks, Marty sneaks out in the middle the night to go set them off. Little does he know, this will bring him face to face with the beast that is terrorizing his town. During this late-night confrontation, Marty injures the werewolf, putting out an eye. It escapes, so Marty and Jane go on a hunt around town to find out who has a telltale injured eye. And suffice it to say, it is not the person they expected.

Unfortunately, the werewolf knows that they know, so they have to rely on Uncle Red to protect them when the beast comes to attack the only ones who know his identity.

The movie is based on Stephen King’s short story, “Cycle of the Werewolf.” Many King adaptations tend to turn into more campy fun than horror when they hit the screen, and this film follows that trend. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good… I mean, this is a classic 80s horror film that’s a lot of fun. And I’ve always been really partial to werewolves, but don’t expect any fancy transformation scenes in this one. In fact, I think the werewolf sort of looks like a teddy bear — I’m guessing that wasn’t exactly the effect they were going for.

Of course, there’s a bittersweet element to it now in light of Haim’s early demise, and the living train wreck that Busey has become. This is a pre-“Lost Boys” Haim, before Hollywood tore him apart. And Busey is in his prime here. The film is family-friendly if you’re looking for a film for kids that still appeals to adults.

Although you might have to explain Busey’s line that he’s more nervous “then a virgin on prom night.”

Retro Cinema is a new column that reviews a different retro horror film every Monday. Subscribe at the top of the page for updates on new film reviews, interviews and horror news.

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Dracula retold, and refreshingly sparkle-free

dracula untold
I’m really wish people would stop ruining vampires for me. You know what movies I’m talking about, without me even uttering the dreaded “T” word. And some of the lame, wimpy, effeminate vampires that have paraded around screen and in books in recent years. So I admit, I almost didn’t even bother to watch Dracula Untold. I figured it would be yet another disappointment.

Fortunately, I figured wrong, at least to a certain extent.

I could nitpick some flaws in this movie, but I’m going to give it a pass on a few things. Maybe my standards have dropped a little too low with some of the poor vampire movies out there, but I actually thought this was pretty damn good.

Dracula Untold tells the story of the origin of the great vampire legend, with an ancient vampire who has been cursed and dwells in a cave. And much like a Marvel superhero, he and his protégé he passes his curse along to can command bats. And let me tell you, they can make these bats do some bitchin’ things, as Ve Neill would say.

They can create storms and huge whirlwinds like tornadoes that the newly crowned Dracula uses as a cover to plow through entire armies by himself, trying to save his kingdom from being taken in a bloody war.

You see, this spin on the Dracula legend has him willingly taking the blood of the cursed vampire in the cave to take on superpowers, which will all go away and he’ll return to human if he can resist feeding for 72 hours. As you can imagine, this can sort of complicate date night with the wife, among other things.

All kidding aside, this movie has beautiful cinematography, fairly nice special effects — and yes, of course they use CGI for the bats (boo, hiss) — but overall this is a very solid entry into the annals of vampire movies.

It’s sort of like 300 with vampires and without the abs. Check out the trailer…

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‘The Devil’s Hand’ gets DVD release

The Devil's HandWhat happens when you have six girls born on the sixth day of the sixmonth in the same Amish community with deep religious beliefs? Why, a demonic legend surrounding them, of course. The latest creepy devil legend thriller is The Devil’s Hand, now available on DVD. Is this movie worth buying for your personal collection?

The Devil’s Hand has some scary moments and some great twists, using misdirection to keep the ending in suspense as far as who is the killer. And somewhat suspenseful which one of the girl’s is the “Drommelkind” of legend, destined to become “the Devil’s hand” on her 18th birthday.

The cast is mostly relatively unknown actors whose faces you know if not their names, and young actors, with the exception of Jennifer Carpenter, aka Debra Morgan on Dexter. Unfortunately, Carpenter is tragically underused here, except to scowl and smirk throughout the entire film as the evil stepmother. Sorry, Dexter fans, no potty mouth here as the devout Rebekah.

If the lead actress seems familiar, it’s probably because Alysia Debnam Carey bears a striking resemblance to Taissa Farmiga of American Horror Story fame, and Sarah is portrayed by Leah Pipes, who bears a striking resemblance to Radha Mitchell.

The acting and script are better than average and this is a very respectable horror film, if there are the typical moments when a character does something stupid that hastens their demise (hiding in a well?)

Obviously if you really love the movie you’ll want the DVD for your collection, but sadly, there are no special features to add value, so your decision will come down to how much you love the movie yourself.

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