Archive for June, 2010

Dr Jekyll Versus The Werewolf

1972, Spain, Directed by Leon Klimovsky

Colour, Running Time: 83 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R2, Mondo Macabro; Video: Anamorphic 1.66:1, Audio: DD Mono

Somewhere in mid London (subtly hinted at with an opening shot of Big Ben…) a bunch of toffs are enjoying a little party where eminent hunter and host Kosta is showing off his collection of severed animal heads, which are boastful evidence of his bravely murderous exploits in foreign lands. The party is also attended to by Dr Jekyll, a practising doctor who jests about the existence of werewolves upon seeing one of the wolf heads. Kosta pines for his Hungarian homeland, somewhere in Transylvania, and soon arranges a driving trip with his wife Justine (a woman who seems to be loved by all of the main male characters) to visit the village of the hunter’s origin. Upon arrival in the land lost in time they’re warned at a tavern not to stop by the old graveyard where Kosta says his family are buried, and there’s talk of a nearby castle where the owner is a “monster” and also present there is one Ms Bathory… Needless to say the couple do not heed any warnings (he’s not travelled several hundred miles in an old Jag just to be scared off by some crazy villager) and wandering around the graveyard they’re attacked by bandits - known raiders that roam the hills in search of loot and a bit of female flesh. Kosta is brutally murdered in the process but Justine is saved by strapping Waldermar Daninsky who, exercising necessary self defence to the minimum, smashes a bandit’s head in with a heavy boulder. It soon materialises that the reclusive Daninsky has his own problems and each full moon brings about a werewolf transformation that he’s desperate to see the back of. Justine mentions that she knows of a great doctor in London and begs him to come back for treatment. Quickly falling in love with one another (this woman wastes no time clearly) they head off in a rush when they realise the angry villagers have formed a lynch mob and want Daninsky’s blood spread over the castle grounds. Back in London, Jekyll has the crack-headed idea of injecting Daninsky with the serum that his grandfather developed, turning the foreigner into Mr Hyde (as if he didn’t have enough shit on his plate), thereby somehow causing him and the werewolf to battle before an antidote is administered to leave a cured Daninsky… eh?!? They actually go ahead with this insane scheme and soon London is the alternating hunting ground of a nasty Mr Hyde and the bloodthirsty werewolf.

Poster Art for Dr Jekyll Versus The Werewolf

To say this is a mixing pot of a plethora of ideas is a bit of an understatement - characters routinely theorise about what’s going on with unrestrained imagination; one villager reckons that the castle is inhabited by Countess Bathory, an evil witch who, if you catch her eye, will curse you forever in a glance - that’s not how I remember the Bathory legend! There’s also mention of vampires upon revelation that Kosta wants to go back to Transylvania - with everything else going on it’s actually surprising that one didn’t show up. We even get a deformed leper who initially scares the snobby couple from England, later assisting Daninsky with such routine tasks as burying corpses. The settings for each act are similarly chaotic - we go from swinging seventies London to Transylvania, which seems like some medieval world where villagers are clothed in rags and sit in taverns with no electricity. Later on we’re back in modern London and Jekyll’s laboratory where we’re almost plunged into science fiction territory with flashing lights, strange sounds, and a strapped down guinea pig being transformed from one monster to another. Then, once Hyde has been on the move for a while, the streets of London are fog enshrouded and the attempted murder of a drunken bystander results in police whistles as if we’ve gone back a hundred years! All of this makes one shake the cranium in disbelief at times, but it also produces quite an pleasurable, if schizophrenic ride, through genre ideas that were either implemented in a sense of fun, or simply misunderstood by the writers. Having said all that, there are moments of acknowledgeable proficiency as displayed periodically by director Klimovsky in other films: the awakening of Justine in the centuries old castle and her subsequent meandering through the dark corridors by candlelight is exceedingly spooky, and similarly the locations used for Transylvania’s barren landscapes, its graveyard and castle, are incredibly cold and desolate. The windswept, intermittently snowy regions are the perfect backdrop for the half hour dark ages-style segment of the story that takes place there. The score is supplied by Antón García Abril, a composer known for his versatility as he worked in anything from operas to many a good Spanish horror film. His work here is nicely executed and enhances a number of sequences such as the aforementioned castle exploration.

-

The main problem for me is Daninsky’s werewolf - despite supposedly being the star of the show, the creature is frustratingly ineffectual here, staggering impotently about as if he didn’t know what to do and lumbering towards victims with a distinct lack of velocity or aggression. The London disco set piece is a consequential lost opportunity - the werewolf appears in the club, panic ensues as everyone scrambles for the exit, and… that’s it! No massacre, no pile of torn up bodies, nothing! I think the problem is a combination of slow editing and Klimovsky’s absent knack for action. Hyde is actually more potent - a sinister individual who at least looks like he might cause violent havoc (and proving this at one point by strangling a prostitute with her own stocking). There’s lots to smile at in the film - I particularly like the way Justine goes off to Transylvania with one man and comes back after the former’s death with another, and nobody seems to bat an eyelid! Whilst not one of the greatest Spanish genre films around, there’s so much going on in Dr Jekyll Versus The Werewolf (or Dr. Jekyll Y El Hombre Lobo) it’s difficult not to find it a little bit endearing, even if it doesn’t really hit all of its copious targets. The wonderful Mondo Macabro rescued it from obscurity albeit in its domestic ‘clothed’ variety - admittedly unfortunate, however, just about all of the other boxes are ticked. Audio is provided as Spanish language (adequately translated with English subtitles), an original 1.66:1 aspect ratio (i.e. slightly window-boxed) is presented with very attractive image quality that stands up admirably to large screen projection, and a few extras include text history of Spanish horror and a twenty minute video interview with Paul Naschy. I believe the DVD is out of print so it does tend to cost a bit to pick it up nowadays - even a couple of years ago I don’t think I could get it for less than ten or eleven pounds. Regardless I consider this a cool disc to have in my collection and another plus for Mondo Macabro.

Posted on 26th June 2010
Under: Horror | No Comments »

Night of the Creeps

1986, US, Directed by Fred Dekker

Colour, Running Time: 89 minutes

Review Source: Blu-ray, RA, Sony; Video: 1.85:1 24fps 1080p, Audio: DTS HD

Distant space: a chase around an alien spacecraft results in the launching of a capsule containing some unexplained test project deep into the cosmos. 1950s, Earth: two lovers see a ‘meteorite’ crash in the nearby woods; the guy goes off to investigate it just in time to witness hundreds of slug-like creatures crawl from the impact site - he never returns. 1980s/the present: a motley pair of college outcasts, Chris and JC, decide to join a fraternity of popular dudes so Chris can impress the new girl of his creams, sorry, dreams: Cindy. The trouble is, their initiation prank involves obtaining a dead body and leaving it outside one of the student buildings. Their adventurous desire to impress brings them to the local science facility as they stumble upon a laboratory where a cadaver appears to be stored in a state of suspended animation. Fooling around with the controls they manage to unlock the chamber and decide this is the body they’ll use for the prank. Much to their shock the corpse opens its eyes - they panic and run, but when the cops arrive at the scene they find the cryogenic study has ‘disappeared’. Meanwhile, outside the girls’ student quarters, Cindy sees a man staggering around by one of the windows; his head explodes and out crawl dozens of slug-like creatures. These things seem to have an attraction for gestating within human or animal brains leaving the host to walk around in virtual living death until the slugs are ready to escape into the outside world to find more hosts and therefore multiply even further…

Creeps poster

Approached in a tongue-in-cheek manner the material functions adeptly on several levels, juxtaposing fun and frights while unfolding a well considered story that weaves a surprising number of its own narrative elements together. It’s refusal to take itself overly seriously (indicated, for example, by naming the characters after genre directors that were popular at the time, and still are in some cases…) actually enhances the drama and tension in places. College dorks, Chris and JC, make for an amusing and endearing pair of leads that are easy to identify with for anyone who didn’t exactly fit in with the main dudes during their educational years, although I find Chris’s evolution from total nerd to hero a bit corny and implausible even in the context of this kind of movie. Embedded in the 80s the film might prove nostalgic for anyone who happened to be a teenager during the period. Delivering some of the best lines, Tom Atkins is brilliant as the cynical cop who hides a past that intricately plays an active part in the story. Dekker must have stretched the budget to its limits with the early sequence set on the spacecraft (which lasts a mere couple of minutes) followed by some excellent special FX work later on. Incorporating many elements of genre convention, from the walking dead to exploding heads and alien slugs, and combining them with a fast-paced adventure populated by great characters and some cool set-pieces, you get your money’s worth and Night of the Creeps remains a notable 80s B Movie that’s accumulated cult status over the decades.

-

I don’t believe this even received a sell-through release on video in the UK - I purchased the tape in a rental-size box via mail order for £25 around 1992 and was glad I did as I watched it many times since. Following the surprise release of Dekker’s other fan favourite a few years ago, Monster Squad, Night of the Creeps was finally announced for not only DVD but Blu-ray as well - this was amazing news for myself and many other Creeps fans who had waited too long. Finally I could see this film as it was probably projected in theatres back in the 80s, possibly in better quality. The image it goes without saying is not the same as what you’d expect from a slick bug budget film of the last decade or so but looks great as far as the source will allow. There’s plenty of detail and colour to saviour, the original aspect ratio is maintained, and it’s really like seeing the film for the first time. Wonderful! The real surprise is a full-blown DTS Master Audio surround track - it’s limited but comes alive for the music and a plethora of sound effects. Eternal thanks, Sony! The film on the disc is the ‘director’s cut’ which basically ends differently to the theatrical edition and the cut on the original video tape. Not wishing to spoil anything it’s less polished but adds an interesting dimension to the outcome of the story. The original ending is there for your perusal, along with plenty of other extras, making this a fantastic Blu-ray Disc release of a cult sci-fi horror that holds up well 25 years later. However, you‘ll have to import it as, just like in the video days, there‘s no off-the-shelf sign of it in the UK.

Posted on 14th June 2010
Under: Horror | No Comments »

Infestation

2009, US, Directed by Kyle Rankin

Colour, Running Time: 91 minutes

Review Source: Blu-ray, RB, Icon; Image: 1080p 24fps 1.85:1, Audio: DTS HD

The contemporary monster movie can boast much more credibility than its 50s grandparents, thanks to a combination of significantly improved special effects technology and the enhanced sophistication of film-making generally. However, modern films of said genre can also attract accusations referring to a lack of the charm or soul that the hand-crafted creatures of yesteryear would frequently lend to their productions. It’s therefore quite pleasing if a product of the millennium onwards can come along and, er, bite you on the ass to surprise/shock/thrill you. Infestation bears noticeable resemblance to the previous 2007 Stephen King adaptation The Mist, at least on paper. The obvious difference being, evident from the Blu-ray cover or any marketing material that might catch your eye, is the injection of a large dose of humour - which can work strongly in favour of or against a film, pretty much mostly dependent on who you have watching it. Office boy Cooper is the loser you’ll find milling around most organisations: bit of a joker, part waster, not much of a contributor, but somehow they get on in life anyway. Destined to remain in trouble for one thing or another with his lady boss he’s about to get a telling off which will probably result in his dismissal when everyone including him suddenly blacks out. When he regains consciousness he finds himself wrapped up in a web-like substance, and briskly attacked by some nasty giant beetle-thing of some species. Managing to fend the creepy off he proceeds to wake his similarly oblivious colleagues for confused conversations/arguments about what to do. They quickly realise the whole surrounding locale is in the same situation, and there are hundreds of the giant bugs going about their genocidal business, too many of them in flying swarms. Losing some of the team to that fatal affliction known as death, and gaining a few others they head out on the road towards various relatives of theirs in order to find survivors amongst them and possibly discover what the hell is going on.

Poster art for Infestation

As mentioned, there are some similarities to The Mist - a mysterious bug invasion of Earth, a group of survivors thrown together, etc - but the overall feel is quite different. Firstly there is the aforementioned humour, applied quite liberally to Infestation and for the most part working very well to make its creepy crawly world a fun place to be (from an outsider’s perspective!). Secondly, whilst the main bunch in The Mist remain trapped within one location for much of the film’s duration, the survivors here escape from their initial prison in the story’s early stages, essentially turning this into a minor road movie as they move from place to place hoping their relatives are okay while looking for some answers or revenge. Repeatedly coming under threat from roaming or flying bugs there is a persistent edginess to their adventure, and the fundamentally horrible nature of the creatures - beetle-like things expanded to human size - brings genuine gooey tension to these sequences of conflict. I frequently found myself cringing as these lethal insects attempted to despatch as many humans as possible in their evident quest for colonisation. An added dimension to the takeover of Earth becomes apparent when a hybrid insect-human monster is discovered, a bastard juxtaposition that is sinister both conceptually and in its onscreen manifestation. The humour is something that’s likely to divide the enjoyment of viewers but in my opinion it was a suitable updating of the comedy horrors that proliferated during the eighties, with mainman Chris Marquette (Cooper) handling the cool script rather well. Despite the marketing emphasis on the funnier side of the film there are a few moments of mild and touching drama that help to flesh out the characters and rope in our sympathies to a certain extent. A good example of this is Kinsey Packard’s Cindy, a weatherwoman appearing to be a bit of a hottie on the surface, but turning out to be a tragic loner with numerous complexes going on under the bonnet.

-

With suitable measures of terror, smiles, and engaging thrills plus drama, Infestation is for me a very successful foray into sci-fi comedy horror, something which I’ll be looking forward to visiting again. The Blu-ray Disc is a great way to experience the film, with consistently bright, chromatic and detailed images embellished by a thumping DTS Master Audio surround track. With most modern films seemingly being shot in a 2.35:1 ratio, it’s also a welcome change to be watching movies in 1.85:1, a ratio that inherently contains more detail on home video due to its close approximation of the 1.78:1 standard (i.e. full HD resolution). Anyway, for those who feel that this film contains ingredients that appeal to them, I recommend picking up this disc pronto.

Posted on 11th June 2010
Under: Horror, Science Fiction | No Comments »

Login     Film Journal Home     Support Forums           Journal Rating: 5/5 (16)