Blu-ray: ‘Death Line’ (aka ‘Raw Meat’) on Blue Underground

Death Line (aka Raw Meat) (1972) – Gary Sherman directs this underrated (and for years largely unseen) British horror film about the last survivor of a literal underground clan (trapped in a subway construction cave in a century before) who emerges from his cave to hunt for food on the London Underground. Yes, it’s a cannibal film, but it’s also a startlingly tender film about a literal underclass abandoned by the world above, a story that roils in class division. It takes the death of an OBE to get the police looking into the spate of disappearances on the London Underground.

Blue Underground

The killer, an unspeaking, primitive figure called the “Man” in the credits (Hugh Armstrong), is also in some ways the protagonist. Drooling and diseased, suffering from plague and malnutrition, he hunts the tunnels of the Underground for food for his dying mate (June Turner). Donald Pleasance steals the film as the unconventional, sarcastic Inspector assigned to the case and then meets his match in a single scene with Christopher Lee as an arrogant high class MI-5 agent. Not so David Ladd (son of Alan Ladd and brother of co-producer Alan Ladd Jr.) as an American in London and Sharon Gurney as his girlfriend and soon-to-be captive of the Man. Their self-involved manner and disdain for the lower classes stands in contrast to the purity of the underground couple but the film stumbles over their scenes together.

Apart from that, however, Death Line is a remarkable horror film.

Continue reading at Stream On Demand

Blu-ray: Four Hammer horrors debut on ‘Horror Classics: Volume One’

HorrorClassicsV1Horror Classics: 4 Chilling Movies from Hammer Films(Warner, Blu-ray) presents the respective Blu-ray debuts of four films from Hammer Films, the British studio that revived the classic monster movies in gothic style and lurid color (to match the lurid atmosphere of sex and death).

The Mummy (1959) is the third of Hammer’s classic horror revivals and the fourth Hammer film to pair up its two marquee stars, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Cushing stars as archeologist John Banning, whose dig for a lost tomb results in untold treasures but leaves his father a mumbling madman and marks the rest of the company for death. Lee is Kharis, a former high priest turned gauze-wrapped guardian of the tomb, a veritable Golem sent on a mission of vengeance by Mehemet Bey (George Pastell), a disciple of the ancient Egyptian god Osiris. “I’ve spent the better part of my life among the dead, but I’ve never worked in a place with such an aura of menace. There’s something evil in there.”

The scenes at the archeological dig and the flashbacks to the ancient burial are stagebound and frankly cheap looking, but Terence Fisher—Hammer’s top director—is back in familiar territory when the action relocates to the misty swamps and Victorian mansions of rural England. The towering, 6’3” Lee makes the most terrifying mummy to date. He covers ground in giant strides, smashes his way into rooms with heavy Frankenstein-like swipes of his arm, and takes shotgun blasts with barely a twitch, yet melts from rage to calm at the sight of Banning’s wife Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux), a dead ringer for his dead Queen. He’s haunted soul, rampaging juggernaut, and a hugely powerful monster all in one. In the classic Hammer tradition there’s a sadistic twist to the flashback when Lee’s transgressive priest has tongue removed. It’s not as gory as it sounds, but it still carries a shivering eeriness about it. Hammer’s Mummy sequels, like Universal’s before it, are a spotty lot but the original is quite good.

Terence Fisher also directs Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1970), the fifth entry in Hammer’s “Frankenstein” series, and Cushing delivers his most cold-blooded portrayal of the mad Baron yet. Abandoning his latest experiment after a drunk stumbles into his secret lab (upsetting a severed head) he hurriedly finds new lodgings with a sweet young thing (Hammer glamour babe Veronica Carlson) whose boyfriend (Simon Ward, in his film debut) works in the local sanitarium. Frankenstein blackmails the lovers into complicity with his latest experiment, resorts to kidnapping and murder for his subjects, turns accomplice Ward into a killer, and even rapes his Carlson in a coldly brutal scene. It continues Hammer’s evolution of Cushing’s Baron into a truly mad scientist, as in utterly insane and cruelly amoral, destroying the lives of all around him in his search for scientific knowledge out of sheer hubris.

The goriest film of the series kicks off with a flamboyant beheading with a scythe (seen only as a spray of blood across a window) and is full of bloody brain surgery, conveniently offscreen but vividly suggested in the slurping sound effects of surgical saws and drills and the gallons of blood left in their wake. Freddie Jones is heartbreaking as Frankenstein’s latest creature, a once insane scientist who awakens to find himself cured but trapped in a grotesque alien body. When he attempts to communicate with his wife, half hiding in a dark corner while she peers around and sees only a monster, Fisher offers the most affecting moment of pathos on the entire series. It helps make this one of the best films in the series and one of the unsung Hammer classics.

Frankenstein-must-be-destroyed-poster

Christopher Lee stars as the malevolent Count in both Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968) and Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970). The former, directed by Freddie Francis, picks up where Dracula: Prince Of Darkness left off, revived from an icy grave by the blood of a priest and pursued by a Monsignor (Rupert Davies). The latter, directed by Peter Sasdy, moves the location to Victorian London where the Count is resurrected by a depraved English Lord (Ralph Bates) and proceeds to revenge himself on the men who killed his servant by seducing their daughters and sending them to murder their own fathers.

All four films, previously available on DVD, have been newly remastered for Blu-ray. The colors are vivid, not to say appropriately lurid, and the images strong and sharp. They are distinctive upgrades from the previous DVD releases, which are well over a decade old. There are no supplements.

All four films also available in separate volumes.

More releases on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital formats at Cinephiled

Blu-ray: ‘Dracula: Prince of Darkness’

Seven years after resurrecting Count Dracula for a new generation in Hammer Films’ The Horror of Dracula, Christopher Lee returned to role under the direction of Hammer’s defining director, Terence Fisher, for a direct sequel. In fact, Dracula: Prince of Darkness opens a recap of the Horror of Dracula finale, which is the first and last time we see Peter Cushing in the picture. But while the film is a genuine sequel with a new story (scripted by Jimmy Sangster from an idea by producer Anthony Hinds, both using pseudonyms in the credits) it reworks many details from the classic novel and Hammer’s adaptation on a smaller scale.

This time the innocents are a group of English tourists–brothers Charles (Francis Matthews, speaking with a Cary Grant lilt) and Alan (Charles Tingwell) and their wives Diana (Suzan Farmer) and Helen (Hammer regular Barbara Shelley)–vacationing in the Carpathian Mountains. Dumped in the woods by a terrified coachman just before darkness falls, they are taken to Dracula’s castle in a driverless carriage and take refuge in the seemingly empty yet oddly kept up place, despite the warnings of travelling priest Father Sandor (Andrew Keir in holy monk warrior garb) and the ominous arrival of the castle’s sole living occupant, Klove (Philip Latham), servant to long-dead master. Klove delivers the film’s best line to his guests, who enquire about the Dracula legacy: “My master died without issue, sir, in the accepted sense of the term.” (Curiously, Klove is nowhere to be seen in the original The Horror of Dracula). He’s enough to put you off the main course, and it does exactly that to Helen, the only member of the party with sense enough to want out of there.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

MOD Movies: Halloween with Fu Manchu and friends

There is nothing tasteful about a Fu Manchu movie. The stories of a ruthless, sadistic, depraved Mandarin crimelord, originally created in a series of lurid pulp thrillers by Sax Rohmer in the 1910s, traffic in a jingoistic fear of Asian assault on western culture (especially the empire-building Britania). Fu Manchu is a criminal genius with three doctorates, a passion for assassination by exotic poison, and an obsessive quest for world domination. And he has been, since the beginning, played by Caucasian actors in silk robes, long-mustaches, and what can only be called yellowface make-up.

Dr. Fu Manchu returned with a vengeance in the 1960 in a series of lurid British thrillers from Harry Alan Towers, a British writer/producer cashing in on the Hammer success with his own low-budget thrillers and horror films, and starring Christopher Lee as the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu.

In the 1965 The Face of Fu Manchu (Warner Archive), the first of five Fu Manchu features from Towers and Lee and the character’s first big official screen appearance since 1940, he kidnaps a brilliant scientist, forces him to turn over his latest, potentially destructive invention by means of torture (usually of a beautiful young daughter), and then holds the world ransom. That basic structure recurs in the sequels, just as it drove many a James Bond film and a couple of Pink Panther sequels and Austin Powers movies.

Not that anyone watched these films for their plots. The film opens on Fu Manchu’s own execution, a scene right out of Hammer Films’ The Revenge of Frankenstein. Clearly this is not the end of Fu Manchu, who returns for his revenge with a literal underground kingdom beneath the streets of London, a fanatically devoted cutthroat army in black pajamas and red sashes (part Viet Cong, part Playboy After Dark), and a small private zoo of poisonous spiders and deadly snakes.

More manufacture on demand releases at Videodrone

Blu-ray: Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing Board the ‘Horror Express’

Eugenio Martino’s Horror Express (Severin) is a one of those odd duck films: a Spanish horror for an international audience with Hammer stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and American actor Telly Savalas (something of an international character actor icon of the time thanks to such films as The Dirty Dozen, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Assassination Bureau) in a small but significant supporting role. Set on the Siberian Express, it’s a mix of murder mystery, supernatural horror, mummy movie, zombie film and alien attack at the turn of the century.

While it’s a minor horror film, it’s filled with incident, paced like a speeding train and flavored with hints of late Hammer horrors and Amando de Ossorio’s Tombs of the Blind Dead. The dangerous cargo is the frozen remains found in Northern China by archeologist Christopher Lee, a “missing link” that turns out to be even more unique and tenacious than anyone anticipates. Coming back to life with burning red eyes, it starts sucking the life and the knowledge out of bystanders and then jumping bodies in its instinct for survival. Peter Cushing is a rival gentleman scientist who uses his fortune to grease the wheels of foreign diplomacy, but shifts from enemy to colleague when the “fossil” escapes and the milky-eyed corpses start to stack up, and then come back to life. This train carries plenty of promising vessels, including a beautiful spy, a Rasputin-like monk and a pair of aristocrats in a private car.

I took particular pleasure in the indignant dignity maintained by Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in all the ridiculousness of the filmmaking, sparring and sniping and sabotaging one another before finally teaming up as the body count builds. And then there is the blast of personality that Telly Savalas brings as a “Cossack” feudal lord from an rural posting. Just when you wonder when he’s going to make his appearance, he rolls out of the sack shared with some nameless woman and leads his troop onto a train by order of a government that’s not sure what’s going on but knows that something wicked this way comes.

Continue reading at Videodrone for disc details and the trailer