Showing posts with label christopher lee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label christopher lee. Show all posts

11 July 2017

12 October 2013

The Wicker Man – The Final Cut Review

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Certificate:
15 (UK)
Release:
11th October (Cinemas) and  14th October (DVD & BR)
Director:
Robin Hardy
Stars:
Edward Woodward, Diane Cilento, Ingrid Pitt, Britt Ekland, Christopher Lee

Buy The Wicker Man 40th Anniversary Edition: [DVD]/ [Blu-ray]

The Wicker Man is now considered by many to be the greatest British horror film ever made. It originally was released as support feature to Nicolas Roeg’s great Don’t Look Now. It faded into obscurity for a few years till the film magazine Cinefantastique called it “the Citizen Kane of horror movies”. I wouldn’t go that far but it is film from the get go that has such an atmosphere that is so off kilter and menacing. The closes I can compare it to something like Seconds or David Lynch even though it’s radically different in almost every way.

The film concerns Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward). He receives an anonymous letter that young Rowan Morrison is missing. Sergeant Howie travels to the remote Hebridean island. The local seems to have an ulterior motive from the get go, they keep saying they haven’t seen him for the bulk of the film. The film unsettling nature is certainly helped by the bizarre musical numbers that are sung by the locals. The film also has one of the most iconic endings in British film history, which is as bleak as you can get.

The film has a very interesting pro-Christian message through the film which very atypical of most films. The film Neil Howie is a devout Christian so much so he is still a Virgin and the villagers are all creepy and evil Celtic Pagans. The Pagans are lead by a deliciously creepy performance by Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle and gives one of his career best performances and it’s much better than his performances in those extremely overrated Hammer films.

The film over the years has developed a rabid cult following. Mark Kermode made a documentary on the film in 2001 that is also included on this Blu-ray. It is now considered one of the finest British films of all-time and along with the film it supported Don’t Look Now is cited as one of the truly great British horror films. The film was originally cut by about 8 minutes in it’s original release. It was restored to a 92-minute cut (which is called the Final Cut on this disc) and a later even longer “Director’s Cut”. The director Robin Hardy now considered the 92-minute cut to be “the final cut”. The disc is absolutely packed with tons of documentaries, interviews, commentaries and the 3 aforementioned cuts. The release also includes a soundtrack cd of those creepy folk songs.

★★★★½

Ian Schultz


29 May 2013

VAMPIRES From The Myth To The Big Screen

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When it comes to mythical creatures in the world of film, nothing has cemented their place as firmly as vampires have. Spanning an impressive 90+ years of legendary screen appearances, vampires started in horror and have since then covered just about every genre imaginable – and sparked the imagination of screenwriters inspired by the myth and its connection with historical figures like Vlad ‘The Impaler’ Tepes and Elizabeth Bathory.

Surviving periods of saturation, the vampire genre is still very much “un-dead” and kicking, with filmmakers fighting to bring new approaches that have seen a tremendous boost of popularity for the world’s favourite blood-drinkers. Neil Jordan, director of the critically acclaimed and hugely successful Interview With The Vampire, returns to UK cinemas on May 31st with Byzantium, a fresh take on the genre that sees Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan playing a mother and daughter vampire duo.

To celebrate Byzantium’s release, we’ve taken a look back at the birth of the vampire myth and its evolution through the ages to become one of the greatest cinematic icons.

Origins of the Myth
Legends of vampires have existed for millennia, with cultures such as the Mesopotamians, Hebrews, Ancient
Greeks, and Romans having told tales of demonic entities and blood-drinking spirits that are precursors to modern vampires. Although vampiric entities have been recorded in many cultures, the term vampire was not popularized until the early 18th century, after an influx of vampire superstition into Western Europe from areas such as the Balkans and Eastern Europe; this lead to mass hysteria, corpses actually being staked, and people being accused of vampirism.

While the appearance of folkloric vampires of the Balkans and Eastern Europe ranged in description from nearly human to bloated rotting corpses (perhaps the equivalent to today’s zombies?), it was the interpretation of the vampire by John Polidori in his 1819 novella The Vampyre that established the archetype of the charismatic and sophisticated vampire. Polidori’s work was arguably the most influential vampire work of the early 19th century, which eventually served as inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Bram Stoker and the Modern Vampire
Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula quickly became the quintessential vampire novel and provided the basis of modern vampire fiction. Dracula drew on earlier mythologies of werewolves and similar legendary demons and was to “voice the anxieties of an age", and the "fears of late Victorian patriarchy". The success of this book spawned a distinct vampire genre, still popular in the 21st century; with books, films, video games, and television shows drawing on the tome. The vampire is such a dominant figure in the horror genre that literary historian Susan Sellers places the current vampire myth in the "comparative safety of nightmare fantasy".


From The Novel To The Screen: The Early Adaptations
1922’s Nosferatu, F.W. Murnau’s German Expressionist cult classic, is one of the most famous early adaptations of the Dracula character. However, something that most people don’t know is that, back in the day, it attracted a (successful) lawsuit from Stoker’s estate for copyright infringement, which meant that all existing copies of the film were ordered to be destroyed. Thankfully, a few copies were saved and escaped
the pyre constructed by the copyright lawyers. Today, the film is out of copyright, and can watched legally in its entirety online.

Nosferatu, contrary to popular belief, wasn’t the first attempt at bringing Dracula to the silver screen. Dracula's Death — sometimes known as The Death of Drakula — was a 1921 Hungarian horror movie (currently believed to be a lost film) that was written and directed by Károly Lajthay. The film is notable because of the fact that it marks the first screen appearance of the vampire Count Dracula, though recent research indicates that the plot does not actually follow the narrative of Bram Stoker's novel. After originally opening in Vienna in 1921 and enjoying a long and successful European run, the film was later re-edited and re-released in Budapest in 1923. This second theatrical run, coupled with the fact that scholars are only now uncovering reliable information about the film, may explain why the Internet Movie Database erroneously lists the film's original release date as April 1923.

There are reports of a 1920 Soviet silent film Drakula (Дракула), based on Stoker's novel. The film would have predated Dracula's Death and is thus claimed to be the first film adaption of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Nothing regarding this film is known to survive; there are no known production stills, and there is very little information about the film available.


The Soviet film is said to be about a woman who experiences frightening visions after visiting an insane asylum where one of the inmates claims to be Count Dracula (here following the Hungarian spelling Drakula), and she has trouble determining if the visions were real or if they were merely nightmares.

Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee: The Making of a Cultural Icon
The 1931 film version ‘Dracula’ was based on the 1927 stage play dramatized (this time with the Stoker estate's endorsement) by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. It starred Bela Lugosi up against Edward Van Sloan, both of whom had originated their respective roles on the stage in the aforementioned play, and was directed by Tod Browning. It is one of the most famous versions of the story and is commonly considered a horror classic. In 2000, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally
significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. The audience heard music only during the opening (the famous main theme from Swan Lake, which was also used at the beginning of other Universal horror productions) and closing credits, and during a brief sequence set at an opera. In 1999, Philip Glass was commissioned to compose a musical score to accompany the film. The current DVD release includes this soundtrack

At the same time as the 1931 Lugosi film, a Spanish language version was filmed for release in Mexico. It was filmed at night, using the same sets as the Tod Browning production with a different cast and crew, a common practice in the early days of sound films. George Melford was the director, and it starred Carlos Villarías as the Count, Eduardo Arozamena as Van Helsing and Lupita Tovar as Eva. Because of America's movie industry’s censorship policies, Melford's Dracula contains scenes that could not be included in the final cut of the more familiar English version.

1958, Hammer Films produced Dracula, a newer, more Gothic version of the story, starring Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. It is widely considered to be one of the best versions of the story on film, and was named the 30th greatest British film of all time in Total Film’s 2004 feature. Although it takes many liberties with the novel's plot, the creepy atmosphere and charismatic performances of Lee and Cushing make it memorable. It was released in the United States as Horror of Dracula to avoid confusion with the earlier Lugosi version. This was followed by a long series of Dracula films, usually featuring Lee as Dracula.

The 1990s: Bringing The Beast Back to the Mainstream
In 1992, Francis Ford Coppola produced and directed Bram Stoker's Dracula starring Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, and Anthony Hopkins. Coppola's story includes a backstory telling how Dracula (who is the historical Vlad Ţepeş in this version) became a vampire, as well as a subplot not in
Stoker's original novel in which Mina Harker was revealed to be the reincarnation of Dracula's greatest love. Dracula serves as a tragic hero instead of being a villain.

Interview with the Vampire is a 1994 American drama horror film directed by Neil Jordan (who is bringing us Byzantium at the end of the month). Based on the 1976 novel Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice, the film focuses on Lestat and Louis, beginning with Louis' transformation into a vampire by Lestat in 1791. The film chronicles their time together, and their turning of a twelve-year-old girl, Claudia, into a vampire. The narrative is framed by a present day interview, in which Louis tells his story to a San Francisco reporter.

The film stars Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Kirsten Dunst, with Antonio Banderas and Stephen Rea co-starring. The film was released in November 1994 to positive critical acclaim, and received Oscar nominations for Best Art Direction and Best Original Score. Kirsten Dunst was also nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film.

The late ‘90s brought us Wesley Snipes in the ‘Blade’ trilogy. The Marvel take on the vampire myth featured Snipes as the titular Blade – and chronicles his emergance as a vampire hunter, out to destroy the lives of the vampires who killed his mother. As the films progress, the traditonal gothic architecture of vampire films gives way to neon-lit hyper-stylised future underworld, where vampires are having their own battles between pure-bloods and vampires who used to be human. The box office treated the films more kindly than the critics, and they three films have so far made over $415million. Blade paved the way for the juxtoposition of the vampire myth and unfamiliar surroundings.

Turn of the Century: New Takes on the Genre
The 21st century has brought with more diverse and popular vampire films – popular both critically and commercially. Russian production Night Watch kicked off a series of films that portrayed a secret society of
protectors who have throughout history guarded humanity from the darkness. It’s vampires hunting vampires in this complex tale – and some of the greatest set-piece stunts ever dreamed up for the big screen.

Possibly as far as you can get from the insanity of Night Watch while remaining firmly in the vampire genre, Let The Right One In was one of the most highly acclaimed films to come out of Scandinavia in 2008. John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel was faithfully adapted for the screen by the author himself, and sensitively directed by Tomas Alfredson. The vampire in this snowy film is the young girl Eli, who struggles to balance her vampiric affliction with a regular life, and her burgeoning relationship with fellow outsider Oskar. The film brought a new and strangely human angle to the vampire story, captivated audiences, and spawned a US remake starring Chloë Grace Moretz.

Perhaps the most popular (although whether this popularity is informed by vampirism or just the lead actors is debatable) vampire film series of all time is Twilight. Based on Stephenie Meyer’s four Edward Cullen novels, the series spans five films that have sent fans crazy since 2008, and has grossed over $2billion. Seen by some as a dumbing-down of many generes from horror and drama to action and romance, Twilight borrows from the mythology of vampires and werewolves to frame a teenage love-triangle (where one is a wolf, and the other is several hundred years old – and dead). These are just three of the more diverse vampire films already released over the last few years – honourable mentions go to Korean vamp-flick Thirst and the clever vampire-friendly premise of 30 Days of Night.

Byzantium: A Fresh Approach
Next up on the vampire slate is Neil Jordan’s Byzantium. Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan. The ladies play a mother and daughter pair surviving in a rundown seaside town – Mother Clara (Arterton) poses as a
prostitute and feasts on some of the clientele. Clara relishes her vampirism, played down from the often exaggerated supernatural aspects of more traditional and tired vampire films. These vampires lack the fangs and supernatural powers that have become a trademark of the genre – the only giveaway to their true identities is a sharp thumbnail that reacts to arousal – at the sight of blood or otherwise. Jordan is no stranger to vampires, having directed the acclaimed Interview With The Vampire, but his new film places the blood-thirsty beings firmly in our reality. They could be anyone of us.

Byzantium promises to delve into an exploration of not just modern vampires, but the challenges of being a vampire for the two leading ladies. Saorise’s Eleanor struggles with the life as many young women would, all the while keeping her dark secret locked within. This is vampirism rethought for the second decade of the 21st century – It’s dark, sexy, emotionally authentic, and real – Twilight it is not.

Byzantium hits UK cinemas on May 31st.

13 March 2013

Watch New Clip & Featurette For Terrence Fisher Dracula Re- Release

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Your not a true horror fan if you don't Terence Fisher's 1958 classic DRACULA, fully restored in High Definition and available on Blu-ray and DVD for the first time. This Monday 18th March 2013 British & Irish horror fans will get their hands on the release which  will contain two versions of the feature (seamlessly branched on the Blu-ray).

Thanks to the  2007 BFI restoration plus the 2012 Hammer restoration, fans will get a chance to see for the first time additional new footage that has been unavailable for decades.The additional footage comprises two of the scenes that were originally censored by the BBFC in 1958 that have now been restored to the film from the “Japanese reels”:

• Dracula’s seduction of Mina

• Dracula’s sunlight disintegration

These will be the most complete versions ever released and taken together fully deserving of the description DEFINITIVE.

DRACULA has been unavailable on any UK home entertainment format for many years. This release will be at the correct aspect ratio of 1.66:1 which has never been available for home viewing.

Available 18th March in the UK on 3-disc Double Play, the pack comprises 1 x Blu-ray and 2 x DVD, the release also includes brand new featurettes, a new commentary track, multiple bonus extras and a stills show (see below for full list of extras).

DRACULA is the first in the series of Hammer films inspired by the Bram Stoker novel Dracula. It was directed by Terence Fisher, and stars Peter Cushing, Michael Gough, Carol Marsh, Melissa Stribling and Christopher Lee.
Dr. Van Helsing, investigating the death of his friend Jonathan Harker, concludes that Harker was the victim of a vampire. When Harker's fiancée, Lucy, becomes affected by the terrifying force and hypnotic power of Count Dracula, Van Helsing releases her tortured soul by driving a stake through her heart. But Dracula seeks revenge, targeting Lucy's beautiful sister-in-law, Mina. Van Helsing, now aided by Mina’s husband Arthur, swears to exorcise this evil forever by confronting the vile and depraved Count himself.

Lionsgate are releasing this horror treasure on 18th March and they have sent us a short clip which shows Dracula's hand (Christopher Lee) dissolving in the sun. As a extra bonus we have a look at a 9 minute featurette called 'Censoring Dracula' which looks at the censorship one of horror's most iconic monsters had to go through especially Terrence Fisher's version which 55 years later is still rated 15!

Below the videos you can find details of the extras and the links you need in order to pre-order or buy Dracula!

Clip


Featurette


Four Brand-New Featurettes

"Dracula Reborn". New 30 min. featurette about the film’s creation and history, featuring, among others: Jimmy Sangster, Kim Newman, Mark Gatiss, Jonathan Rigby and Janina Faye (Tania in the film).

"Resurrecting Dracula". New 20 min. featurette about the film’s restoration, from the BFI’s 2007 restoration through to the integration of “lost” footage, featuring interviews with key staff at the BFI, Molinare and Deluxe142. Also covers the February 2012 world premiere of Hammer’s interim restored version including “vox pop” interviews with fans after the event.

"The Demon Lover: Christopher Frayling on Dracula". New 30 min. featurette.

"Censoring Dracula". New 10 min. featurette on the original cuts to the film ordered by the British Board of Film Censors.

Commentary: New commentary by Hammer historian Marcus Hearn and author & critic Jonathan Rigby

Plus

  • All 4 surviving "Japanese reels" (6 - 9) unrestored (40 mins
  • The World Of Hammer episode: Dracula And The Undead
  • Janina Faye reading a chapter of Stoker’s novel at the VAULT festival
  • Stills Gallery of over 100 fully-restored and rare images
  • Booklet by Hammer archivist Robert J. E. Simpson (PDF)
  • Original shooting script (PDF)


Pre-order or Buy:Dracula (Blu-ray + DVD) [1958]






22 October 2012

Hammer Films DVD Special Edition Reviews: Rasputin, The Mummy's Shroud, The Devil Rides Out

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The Hammer vaults flaunt perhaps the world’s greatest collection of classic horror.  Sure, the Universal monsters have garnered legendary status and are perhaps a little more dependable for production value, but for cult status and cast, the British titan has no real adversaries. Perhaps due to the company’s recent revival and the commencing of its film production (last years The Woman in Black starring Daniel Radcliffe was new-wave Hammer produce) classic Hammer films have been re-mastered and reissued on DVD and Blu Ray, making now the best time to own an integral part of cinema history.

Rasputin (1966)

Rasputin, a holy man with the power to heal the sick, slowly makes his way through pre-revolution Russia towards St Petersburg with the sole intent of working his way towards the Tsars, his ruthless pursuit of wealth and power mark him as a danger to all those who stand in his way.
                One of Hammer’s many historical-epics-on-a-tight-budget, Rasputin starring Christopher Lee as the infamous holy man-cum-mad-man is handled with diligent care and mindfulness to its capabilities. In less skilled hands the film could have appeared over-reaching, but with a solid cast and careful scripting it keeps its focus on character.
                It’s important that the film be labelled as a historic drama with a dark side (what history doesn’t have a dark side?) as opposed to Hammer’s typical horror, to label this a horror movie feels somewhat criminal and dismissive. The thing that constantly amazes is Lee’s wonderful performance as the boisterous, brutish, subtle, and manipulative Rasputin.  Never before, and possibly after, has Lee achieved that range of character; his ability to slip between the mad monk’s many faces is the prize of the feature and the staple that holds it together.  The film does unfortunately waver at points, losing its focus or drifting into less arresting grounds, but on the whole it’s an enjoyable a and unwholesome affair.

★★★☆☆


The Mummy’s Shroud (1967)

The Mummy’s Shroud is perhaps the most bipolar in terms of quality out the three releases, at its best points it appears quant, romantic even, adventurous, and unsettling, yet on the other hand it can seem amateur and messy.  The third of Hammer’s Mummy films, Shroud allows itself to become victim to tedious writing, the typical story of “archaeologists warned against their escapades, unleash terror on themselves”, seems the basis for just about every Mummy film in existence. If you ignore the recycled narrative then the film can still thrill.
                Once the Mummy is awakened the film breathes new life into itself picking up pace. The Mummy scenes are actually quite vicious; Eddie Powell’s (Christopher Lee’s regular stunt double) slow cumbersome movements and the brutality of his Mummy’s attacks foresee a time when monsters like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees would rule the screens. A fantastic climax leaves the film in good standing, but one can’t help but wish the rest of the film achieved that level of excitement.
                There are glimpses of style and suspense but too few to mark the film out, this along with the fact the feature is mostly a few tense scenes strung together with a lack of real grit, lure the film into a middle ground of average horror.
Directed by: John Gilling Cast: André Morell, John Phillips , David Buck

★★☆☆☆


The Devil Rides Out (1968)
One of the truly great Hammer contributions to cinema, The Devil Rides Out is an exercise in perfect occult horror. Adapted by Richard Matheson from a Dennis Wheatley novel, the film follows two old friends, The Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee) and Rex Van Ryn(Leon Greene) as they try to rescue a deceased friend’s’ son from the clutches of a satanic cult. The cult, led by the diabolic Mocata (Charles Gray), will stop at nothing to retrieve the young man and punish those who crossed them.
                Jumping straight to the point is a key factor in the films’ success; the story keeps the characters moving and never takes a dull or pointless turn. A stellar performance from Lee (one of his very best, and personal favourites) ensures that the plot is guided carefully around any possibly ridiculous devices. One of the key strengths of the piece is Lee’s polar relationship to Gray’s equally mesmerising Mocata, the two play out a battle of wits whilst rarely sharing any actual screen time.  The action is kept in check, the plot is gripping, the Wicker man vibe is strong and helps put a stamp of purely British terror on the feature, plus there are more than a few genuinely unnerving scenes.     
The film is frequently criticised for its disappointing visual effects, but apart from a dodgy spider gag the effects work pretty damn well.  The appearance of the actual Devil is a terrifying visitation thanks to some brutally unattractive make-up, as is the appearance of the Angel of Death, things that out of context could seem dated, but given the sharpness of the script and Terence Fisher’s tight direction pulls off smoothly.
                Few Hammer films achieve the crisp and startling quality of this piece after all these years, and even fewer are almost faultless. The Devil Rides Out is not just a fantastic example of Hammer’s capabilities, but a perfect alignment of those qualities that evade most horror productions; a stellar script, perfect cast, and genuine thrills.

★★★★★


SCOTT CLARK

23 August 2012

HAMMER LAUNCHES YOUTUBE CHANNEL

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Exclusive new filmed content alongside beloved classic genre films to make groundbreaking online debut
 
To the delight of fans worldwide Hammer, Britain's most celebrated genre film brand which recently produced box office smash The Woman in Black and the acclaimed Let Me In, today launches its first dedicated YouTube Channel at www.youtube.com/hammerfilms.  For the very first time, exclusive new content from current Hammer productions as well as carefully restored classic Hammer feature films will be available to stream online.

The Hammer Films Channel will carry a range of exclusive new content, previews, commentary and behind the scenes material from upcoming new productions such as The Quiet Ones starring Jared Harris and Sam Claflin and The Woman in Black: Angels of Death, the follow up to the worldwide box office hit, The Woman in Black, starring Daniel Radcliffe.

In addition, the Hammer Films Channel will stream a collection of Hammer’s well-known classic feature film titles including The Quatermass Xperiment, The Man In Black and Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter some of which have been newly restored and digitally re-mastered. As additional titles are added to the new platform, this will be the first time fans can view other digitally re-mastered classic Hammer films online under a restoration initiative launched earlier this year by Hammer’s owner Exclusive Media.

From the historic library, the Hammer Films Channel will also carry Classic Hammer TV series such as ‘Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense’, as well as new on-air commentary and film introductions from official Hammer historian, Marcus Hearn and Hammer archivist, Robert J.E. Simpson.  Newly created featurettes and original trailer material, not seen by the public for many years, will also be added to the Channel’s far reaching content.  The Hammer Films Channel will continually expand its range of programming as it becomes available, with the full schedule to be published and regularly updated at www.hammerfilms.com 

Simon Oakes, President and CEO of Hammer said, “The launch of our dedicated YouTube channel truly encapsulates how we have positioned Hammer as a dynamic British genre label with a great heritage.  We hope this new platform will allow us to continue to reach fans who have responded so well to films like Let Me In and The Woman in Black, while continuing to honour the great filmmaking history of our company."
Watch this brilliant video from the channel called History Hammer Films In 90 Seconds!