Taste the Blood of Dracula Review
Review # 149
Director – Peter Sasdy
Cast – Christopher Lee, Peter Sallis, Geoffrey Keen, Gwen Watford, Linda Hayden, Anthony Corlan, Isla Blair, John Carson, Martin Jarvis, Ralph Bates, Roy Kinnear
– follows Dracula Has Risen From the Grave
– followed by Scars of Dracula
We all know Dracula, the evil vampire and seducer of lore. The most recent movie adaptation of any note was Coppola’s 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula starring Gary Oldman. That is a movie that, while being hailed for its old-time charm and practical effects wizardry, I have yet been able to sit through once. But before Oldman and his famous (infamous?) hairstylings, the character was synonymous with Christopher Lee and his portrayal in the Hammer Productions films.
Christopher Lee is perhaps most famous to modern audiences as the villains Sauroman and Count Dooku, from the Lord of the Rings films and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones respectively. He also makes numerous cameos in Tim Burton movies. But back in the day Hammer films were his training ground, with appearances in The Hound of the Baskervilles and many other non-Dracula roles. His Dracula is suave and commanding, but doesn’t say much, except for counting down the number of victims he has killed. He doesn’t even appear (save one brief scene at the beginning) until 50 or 55 minutes into the movie.
The movie is told from the point of view of three men, friends who like going out on a Sunday night and living a little wild. (In a nice surprise one of these men is played by Peter Sallis, eventual voice of Wallace from Wallace and Gromit, and long time cast member of the BBC TV series The Last of the Summer Wine.) Once brothels start seeming a little tame, they talk to someone rumoured to have been once caught in the act of worshiping in a Black Mass. He is a rich and arrogant young man, and takes them to a remote castle. There he drinks the re-constituted blood of Dracula (after the three men chicken out), and after they flee we see him morph into a familiar fanged form. Dracula vows to hunt the men down. As you do.
The movie is slow to build up, and uneven pacing is its biggest problem. It is a beautiful looking movie, though, and clearly had a decent budget (for movies it its type.) I was intrigued by its way of keeping Dracula off-screen til the half way point. We saw the story through the eyes of three middle-aged gentlemen who realize they are in over their heads, and it was enough of a new take on the vampire genre to interest me. I must admit that other than that the story is fairly routine. The special effects aren’t great (what little there are), with the occasional visible wire or dodgy compositing, but we have to expect that from these productions.
Taste the Blood of Dracula is a solid entry into the Hammer Dracula series, as those movies go. Christopher Lee is back in fine form, but doesn’t have a lot to do, really. I would recommend this to fans of Hammer films, or Dracula films. There isn’t much in it for anyone else, but it does certainly have a quaint charm to it.
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The Exorcist: Extended Director’s Cut Review
Review # 141
Director – William Friedkin
Cast – Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Millers, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, William O’Malley
– followed by Excorcist II: The Heretic
I am not a horror movie fan in general, and don’t expect to become one any time soon. I have a sneaking suspicion this is the result of all the torture porn out there, which isn’t true horror, in my opinion anyway. I just don’t like horror movies that rely on gore and/or jump moments for their effect. The horror movies I do like tend to inspire not so much horror per se, but a slow and rising feeling of dread. Movies where the tension just builds up and builds up, not to be released in a “jump” moment, but in an inevitable series of events, the climax that the movie has been building too.
The Exorcist is a movie like that. It hasn’t aged well in some ways, as in todays desensitized culture the shock elements are perhaps not as shocking as they once were. But The Exorcist is still unnerving, chilling, and even moving. This is good, as those are the more important elements of the movie anyway. The story is really at the forefront here, and that’s how you make a good horror movie, or any movie for that matter, regardless of genre.
We follow actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), whose young daughter Regan (Linda Blair) is starting to behave oddly. After countless doctors fail to come to a diagnosis, and as Regan is acting worse and worse, she feels she has no choice but to turn to a priest for an exorcism. She finds Father Karras (Jason Miller), a priest who privately feels himself to be losing his faith in God. He manages to convince the church that an exorcism is required, at which point Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) is brought in to lead it.
This movie of course has stirred up quite a bit of controversy in its time, mainly of course for the disturbing and hideous transformation of sweet 12-year-old Regan into a possessed blasphemer and, well… cross fetishist, but the scenes detailing her experiences with the medical community are almost as bad. Perhaps it is because this torture seems to come from a more real and concrete world. It is to the movie’s credit that by the end of the movie we fully believe that the demons and exorcism are just as real. The director apparently had a lot of experience with making documentaries. Perhaps the sense of realism that is palpable throughout the movie stems from that. Strange though it may seem, the most important thing in horror movie is that sense of realism. Without it, no strange and gruesome events would ever be really scary.
The Exorcist is a drama with scary bits, and works beautifully that way. It puts story above scares. While the shock factor may not work quite as well to a modern viewer, it makes up for it with an engaging story and excellent acting. Highly recommended (to those who can stomach this kinda thing).
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The Train Robbers
Director – Burt Kennedy
Cast – John Wayne, Ann-Margaret, Rod Taylor, Ben Johnson, Ricardo Montalban
I didn’t realize how late in life John Wayne kept making westerns; apparently he kept right on going right up to a couple of years before his death. I guess the John Wayne western movie was such an American institution he couldn’t stop making them any more than Old Faithful could stop gushing.
In The Train Robbers, a tired and derivative movie, he plays a gritty and authoritative man who recruits some old friends to hunt down stolen gold, which belongs to a woman whose husband was shot keeping the hiding place secret. These old and tired men stroll through a few miles of the American West to find the case of gold, “pursued” by a band of 20 men who aim to steal it from Wayne and Co. once it is discovered. This results in a gunfight or two (actually, I think literally just two), by which time we find the indomitable American hero at a train station, where he dynamites three buildings to take care of 4 or 5 straggling baddies.
It is a strange thing, but this final sequence is probably the best in the whole movie, and the final scene (in which a nice little twist is revealed) is actually wonderful. It’s a pity that the rest of the movie is so bland, boring, and just plain dull. I haven’t seen a movie this empty of vim and vigour in ages. It is as if the aging John Wayne (he was 66 at the time of filming) sapped the whole production of all energy. Quite frankly, the role (and even this type of movie) was quite unsuited to John Wayne by this point in his life. Did he continue with the same type of roles because that was all he knew? Probably.
What makes it worse is that there is nothing blatantly wrong with the story as is. It could have been fairly interesting; perhaps with some more focus on the tension between Wayne and his friends, or with more focus on Ricardo Montalban’s mysterious character, who follows both groups through the western sands. The movie just doesn’t have an iota of dramatic energy, and we merely end up with a bland feeling of vague disinterest. If only some chances were taken here, any chances at all to make it more interesting or give it a sense of urgency. Some better editing would have gone a long way. How do you have the legendary Duke in a gunfight over $50,000 in gold against 4 to 1 odds and have it be boring?
The Train Robbers has a decent movie buried inside it, but is smothered by an aging star who is unfit for the role, and by a total lack of urgency and suspense. Perhaps I am biased, as I’m not known for loving westerns, but I couldn’t get into this movie in the least. Maybe someone accustomed to the genre would have better luck. Maybe.
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Kelly’s Heroes REVIEW
Director – Brian G. Hutton
Cast – Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, Carroll O’Connell, Donald Sutherland, Gavin McLeod, Harry Dean Stanton, Len Lesser
Kelly’s Heroes features Clint Eastwood as an Army officer who discovers the location of a bank which contains millions of dollars in Nazi gold. With WW II in full swing around him, Kelly gathers a few men, including Donald Sutherland as a tremendously entertaining pseudo hippie tank commander, and plunges behind enemy lines toward the loot.
Kelly’s Heroes reunited Clint with his Where Eagles Dare director for a movie which is decidedly more fun and generally better than the former. It is a simple movie that uses its premise well, never really diving into the motivation of the war or its participants. This is essentially a heist film, the only difference being that in this film the heroes can kill with a clear conscience, because hey, they’re just Nazi’s. For some reason Nazi’s make great villains, as proven by the Indiana Jones franchise. This is probably because they have great uniforms, a menacing accent and their ideology is repugnant. No one need feel a thing when rows of them are gunned down, or at least that is the tone this movie takes.
The performances are key to the movie. Donald Sutherland is a wonderful standout as the possibly deranged and aptly named Sgt. Oddball. Carroll O’Connor (“All in the Family’s” Archie Baker) has a great extended cameo as a Major General who mistakenly thinks that Kelly and Co. are merely pressing forward out of pure courage, and Telly Savalas plays Kelly’s tough commander. Also, keep a look out for Harry Dean Stanton (later to appear in Alien), and a younger Len Lesser, who would go on to play Uncle Leo in “Seinfeld”.
I read on Wikipedia that this film is considered one of the movies released to cash in on the success of The Dirty Dozen, produced 3 years before. I find that interesting, as both Telly Savalas and Donald Sutherland were in The Dirty Dozen, and prove their range here by playing totally different characters.
Clint Eastwood is perhaps not as good as the rest in his role, as he takes his usual hard, tough, annoyingly quiet character and almost parodies it. I guess I have never been as fond of Eastwood’s acting as others seem to have been. It looked like he was trying to be cool and tough, rather than letting his actions speak for themselves. In A Fistful of Dollars and its sequels this style fitted the tone of the movie perfectly. Here, not so much.
Kelly’s Heroes is tough, funny, energetic, and brawny. The acting is great, except for Eastwood, and the movie never forgets to have fun. It is very much a “guy’s movie”, along the line of The Dirty Dozen, though this one has a bit more of a satirical edge. I would recommend this to most people, especially if they have a fondness for the war movies of this era, which I must admit to. With a more charismatic lead this would have been better, but it is still an admirable and fun flick.
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The Great Gatsby REVIEW
Director – Jack Clayton
Cast – Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Bruce Dern, Karen Black, Sam Waterson, Scott Wilson
The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is required reading in many schools, and has made its mark on many writers since its publication in 1925, despite its original unpopularity. It is now seen as a classic American novel.
I have found that adapting books into films is usually done for one of two reasons. One, that the book is popular and would make a large profit based on its popularity, or two, that the book is very good and would work well within the cinematic format. Unfortunately I think the motive in this case was the former, even though the book is certainly good enough for the latter.
The production in general is drab, uninteresting, and very much in the line of TV movies. While the story is dealt with in a fairly efficient manner, it is told with such a lack of energy that it becomes boring.
The actors in almost every case are either bad or miscast. Robert Redford is terrible for the part of the withdrawn and somewhat bitter Gatsby. It reminds me of the story (possibly true) of when Redford wanted the part in The Graduate that would eventually go to Dustin Hoffman. When he questioned why he didn’t get the part, the director asked him if he’d ever “struck out” with a girl. Redford asked “What do you mean?” The director said “Exactly.” The point being that Redford is too good-looking and too charismatic to play a loner whose girl wouldn’t wait for him when he went to war. He does his best, but essentially can’t get past his own style.
The only actors who get out of this unscathed are Sam Waterson and Scott Wilson. Sam plays the movie’s narrator, the man from whose eyes we see the story. Scott Wilson plays George Wilson, a simple man who owns a garage and is constantly put upon by the upper class folks. Both these actors are natural yet add a welcome sense of urgency to the story.
In the end the only thing that keeps the movie going is that it is based on such good source material. There a couple good shots that piqued my interest though. One (which is repeated several times) is a shot of Gatsby’s pool and house, featuring blue and white curtains waving idly by the topaz water and white marble columns. It is a wonderfully mood-setting shot. The other thing is “the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleberg”, a sign which looms over the road to New York. This famous image from the book is replicated perfectly here.
The cast and plodding pace of The Great Gatsby is really what stops it from reaching its potential. The story is good, but isn’t allowed to soar. Robert Redford is miscast awfully, and Mia Farrow overacts as the ditsy Daisy. As an adaptation of a classic work of literature this movie falls well below what it could have been, but because of the good source material it manages to scrape by as a watchable movie.
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