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Friday, March 17, 2017

Doctor Dracula, another Al Adamson two-movie composite


Review by Doug Gibson

I mentioned "Doctor Dracula" in an earlier post. It's not much of a film and merits its very low rating on IMDB.com.

What makes the film marginally interesting is one, it's directed by schlock auteur, the late Al Adamson, two it's likely the only film in which Dracula meets Svengali, three, it has John Carradine (although what trashy '70s film doesn't) and four, it's another example of Adamson practicing film composites, in which he takes two thin films to make an even thinner film.

Adamson and his partner Sam Sherman got their hands on an unreleased film called "Lucifer's Women." They shot a vampire tale to mix with it and managed to get a few actors from the earlier film to create a plot that is deliciously nonsensical in the Adamson tradition.

The film commences with a vampire killing a woman who welcomes his bite. We then switch to an author and mystic named Wainwright (Larry Hankin) lecturing and hypnotizing an audience. He has a book about Svengali. In the audience is Carradine's character and a doctor, Gregorio, (Geoffrey Land) who is openly derisive of Wainwright.



Also in attendance is the daughter, Stephanie, of the woman slain in the opening scene. She's played by actress Susie Ewing, best known as the trucker "Hot Pants" in the film "Smokey and the Bandit."

Stephanie is desperate to find out why her mom died. She consults Wainwright but he's not helpful. She receives greater assistance from Gregorio but his help comes with a bite; more on that.

We also kick to dull scenes in a nightclub where a beautiful singer named Trilby (get it) is performing. Wainwright is falling in love with her. That's because he is turning into the reincarnation of Svengali. There's a whole cult of people, including Carradine, who worship the devil and are involved in the Svengali resurrection. Wainwright/Svengali doesn't want to kill Trilby but the devil cult has a more powerful pull on him and she eventually is readied to be sacrificed. More later.

Meanwhile, Gregorio is -- big surprise -- really Count Dracula. Occasionally he kills women including a somewhat amusing scene where he gives the bite to a tipsy floozy who loves being in a coffin, played by Adamson's wife, Regina Carroll.

In what is probably the sole scene that provides any chills, Gregorio/Dracula produces the undead mother of Stephanie. She has no human qualities left, and openly scorns her daughter.

Dracula has similar plans for Stephanie, and he begins a slow process of controlling her. She may have something to say or do about that later; more on that.

Eventually, the film leads to the sacrifice of Trilby, played by Jane Brunel-Cohen. She may be the worst actress I've seen in a film. Even as she's about to die, she's incapable of conveying emotion.

Dracula crashes the sacrifice and viewers expecting a battle royal between the bloodsucker and the Svengali cult will be disappointed. Spoiler alert: Dracula wins with barely an effort. Land, by the way, is not too bad as Dracula. He's far better than Zandor Vorkoff in "Dracula Versus Frankenstein" or Mitch Evans in "Gallery of Horrors."

There is an abrupt, mildly surprising ending involving Stephanie and Dracula that I won't give away in case you want to see the flick. I recommend it only to Adamson completists and fans of composite films, of which Adamson made several,

The history of the film is interesting. It was made in the late 1970s, in which Adamson's Independent International, and other indie schlock producers, were being moved out of the business. Bigger studios were either making their own shockers or buying better-produced low budget shockers and tidying them up for major releases.

To my knowledge, "Doctor Dracula" was only released to television, which may explain why it's very tame, with virtually no nudity. Rumor has it that it played VHS with Adamson's "Horror of the Blood Monsters" and it got a sole DVD release in 2002. The DVD has the trailer for "Lucifer's Women." A better idea would be for Sam Sherman to apply the entire Paul Aratow-directed film, Lucifer's Women," (if it still exists) as an extra to the DVD.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Bela Lugosi as character actor: The Saint's Double Trouble





By Doug Gibson

At Plan9Crunch, today's review is the 1940 film, "The Saint's Double Trouble," filmed in late 1939 for upper-tier film producer RKO. If you're a Bela Lugosi completist, you need to see this entry in the Saint, Simon Templar, series with starred George Sanders, and which is today the most popular offering precisely because Lugosi is featured in a supporting as -- literally -- the "partner" of a the Saint's adversary in this film, "Boss" Duke Bates, a ruthless jewel thief who casually kills anyone who gets in his way.

What's most interesting for Lugosi fans is that this marks the dawn of the era when Lugosi -- except for a few monster pics -- was shoved out of great roles in A upper-budget productions. In film after film that wasn't a Monogram or other low-budget offering, Lugosi would usually be wasted as either a "red herring butler type" or a "secondary criminal." He's the latter in "...Double Trouble." As the Egyptian partner of Boss Bates, he has decent screen time in the 68-minute programmer, but no real memorable lines. He's more cautious than the sociopathic Bates.

This is still a fun film and Lugosi provides good acting skills. Sanders absolutely a delight as the British, superficially polite rogue who matches wits with both police and crooks. The character, Simon Templar, is based on a popular detective series of the time penned by Leslie Charteris. "...Double Trouble," however, was the one flick that was not based on a book. The plot is a tad convoluted but clever, and it all warps up well. These programmer mysteries were forerunners to TV detective shows.

Today, the Saint might make a good series for cable or even HBO if the producers wanted to unclothe a few actors. Frankly, that would seem a bit gauche for Sanders' Saint, who has a fine time flirting with and protecting the gorgeous daughter (Helene Whitney) of a past professor of his who is, unfortunately, rubbed out by Bates before justice is served. The film was directed by Jack Hively and Jonathan Hale ably portrays Inspector Henry Fernack, who matches wits with the Saint in more than one film in the series. A fun film, so long as one accepts that Bela is only a minor presence in the movie.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Braniac -- Mexican horror kitsch at its best



By Steve D. Stones

Producer K. Gordon Murray took a number of Mexican horror films in the late 1950s and early 60s, duped them in English and released them to American audiences. The Brainiac is one of many of his Mexican imports released in the early 1960s. Like many of the Mexican imports from Murray, The Brainiac stars German Robles, who starred as a vampire in other Mexican films.

The year is 1661. A Mexican Baron, played by producer Abel Salazar, is accused of witchcraft, “dogmatism,” infidelity and other crimes. The Spanish Inquisition sentences him to be burned at the stake. Before his death, he vows to return from his grave and seek vengeance on all the descendants who execute him.  As the Inquisition reads the charges against him, he smirks and laughs at them, showing no fear of his sentence.

Fast forward to the year 1961 and the Baron returns to life from a fallen meteor in the sky. It is never explained why the Baron’s soul has to return in the form of a meteor, which adds to some of the strangeness of the film. After crashing on Earth from the meteor, the Baron attacks a man as his clothes magically appear on the Baron after the victim’s death.

The Baron continues his womanizing ways of the past by picking up beautiful women at local bars. Soon, he hosts a formal party for some of the descendants of his executioners to kill them. Before he attacks his victims, he turns into a forked tongue demon with pincher hands that sucks out the brains of his victims with his tongue. He keeps their brains in a chalice locked away in a chest. He occasionally eats the brains as a quick late night hors d’oeuvre.

The pulsating mask of the Baron as he transforms into the forked tongue demon is hilarious, and not to be missed by any fan of low-budget monster movies. Close up sequences show the demon placing his forked tongue behind the neck of his victims as he attempts to suck out their brains. Very silly stuff, but also very entertaining and fun to watch. Seeing the demon walk around in a three piece suit as his face pulsates and his pincher hands move like a crab has to be seen to be believed. You won’t want to miss – The Brainiac.  Happy Viewing! 


Monday, February 27, 2017

Vampire films of the 1970s covered well in new book


Review by Doug Gibson

"Vampire Films of the 1970s: Dracula to Blacula and Every Fang Between," a new book from genre author Gary A. Smith, does the usual, thorough McFarland Books job with its subject. Smith reviews the bloodsucker films of the era to a fault. To a cult nerd's delight, he spends time with 70s vampire films of schlock auteurs Andy Milligan and Al Adamson.

The low-budget Europe import films of Jean Rollin, Jess Franco are covered well, as is the "Dracula included" films of Europe's most famous werewolf, Paul Naschy (his films are a pleasant surprise after the leaden Rollin and Franco efforts). In fact, Smith spares a few paragraphs for porn versions of the vampire legend.

So, from Hammer, to Blacula, to AIP, to Franco, to Naschy to Rollin, to Langella, Dan Curtis, Santo the wrestler, porn, Masterpiece Theater, TV with the Night Stalker, and other oddities, "Vampire Films of the 1970s covers a lot of ground.

It's a delight for genre fans. Although Smith lacks the tolerance for "bad" films that most genre fans enjoy, he assesses dozens of films concisely but thoroughly, with strong plot outlines as well. Hammer, of course, is the dominant player of 70s vampire films through about 1975. Smith, intentionally or not, captures a readable scenario in charting Hammer's slow march to insolvency through the decade.

Early in the 70s, Hammer exploited the lesbian possibilities of the "Carmilla" novel, and other vampire plots, with such as "The Vampire Lovers," "Twins of Evil," "Lust for Vampire." The Countess Bathory was another popular option, with films such as "Countess Dracula." The films were full of gothic beauty, and an abundance of sex and nudity. Others were "Scars of Dracula" and "Vampire Circus."

European filmmakers tried to imitate Hammer, with some small success, particularly "Daughters of Darkness," a Belgian import. The aforementioned Naschy tried his hand with "Count Dracula's Great Love," an inferior Hammer imitation with beautiful women, lots of flesh, and, save Naschy, abysmal acting. "The Werewolf versus the Vampire Woman," from Naschy, is a better film, with a memorably creepy performance from the Bathory-like Patty Shepard.

And yes, gutter auteurs Rollin and Franco produced several films. They are unique -- the mark of an auteur -- but leaden and lifeless. The women are gorgeous, and often unclothed, but the films creep and creep along. I watched Rollin's "The Nude Vampire" and 80-plus minutes seemed like 5 hours. As for Franco, watching his "faithful" adaptation of "Count Dracula" with Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom and Klaus Kinski (he had talent in the cast!) is painful. It's a test the Spanish director fails. (Smith provides an interesting backstory of how Spanish cinema became more daring as the Franco dictatorship came to an end).

Author Smith is to be commended for the bits of information gathered, including the box office success of the films, where they played in Europe, and the United States. As mentioned, he charts Hammer's decline into bankruptcy. Near the middle of the decade, the company moved its vampire films' time periods to present day. "Dracula AD 1972" is a dated mess, "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" is better, but again with a present-day setting, the gothic beauty of the Hammer films is lost.

"Satanic Rites...," one of a several 70s vampire films I watched the past week, is also overly sadistic and more prurient. It seems to be an effort by Hammer, strangely, to try to emulate the inferior Franco and Naschy efforts.

"Satanic Rites" flopped, Lee left the series, Hammer made a strange martial arts vampire film, and the company slipped into insolvency.

Smith notes well the low-budget films that competed for bloodsucker box office. AIP made "Blacula" and a sequel, Santo the wrestler battled some vampires, Adamsom mixed two movies to make "Doctor Dracula," a film with both the vampire and Svengali! Two Milligan films, "The Body Beneath" and "Blood," are reviewed. Smith dislikes both, but "The Body Beneath" is quite good, in my opinion.

Lest, I forget, "Andy Warhol's Dracula" (AKA "Blood For Dracula), is also looked at by Smith. Director Paul Morrissey threads the vampire story with a strong Marxist theme conveyed by the Van Helsing-like Joe Dallesandro. Ironically, a little bit of that social justice is also present in the far-better "Countess Dracula."

As Smith notes, late in the decade the above-average "Dracula," with Frank Langella, was a major release if not overwhelming hit. Also, there were well-produced television adaptations of "Dracula" produced.

I recommend Smith's book, pricey as it may be. It's thorough and entertaining. It'd be fun to read a "Frankenstein Monster Films of the 1970s," if just to read an overview of the truly dreadful, unique schlock "Blackenstein."

You can find out more by calling McFarland at its number, 800-253-2187.

A postscript: I watched several of the films mentioned in Smith's book last week. Here are some capsule observations:

-- "Doctor Dracula" -- It's typical Al Adamson, editing two films to make one. The actor who plays Doctor Dracula isn't too bad, but the camp value is in how bad the actress who plays Trilby is. John Carradine slums in this effort.

-- "The Nude Vampire" -- Jean Rollin managed to cast the most beautiful actresses, but his films are pretentious and dull. There's a slight anti-capitalist theme in this story of exploited "mutants" who act like vampires. I do love the twins in this film, though.

-- "Count Dracula's Great Love" -- I like Paul Naschy as the vampire in this Hammer imitation with more nudity. But the other actors are terrible, and the plot pedestrian. Naschy, though, makes it worth a viewing.

-- "Dracula Vs. Frankenstein" -- Very dated, set in the '70s with Michael Rennie (his last film) as an alien trying to do something that involves many monsters. Naschy, as a werewolf, battles a mummy, which may be a first. Also know as "Assignment Terror."

--"The Werewolf Vs. the Vampire Woman" -- My second-favorite of the films I watched, with Naschy acting well as a man-werewolf trying to protect women from a truly creepy vampire woman.

-- "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" -- It has its moments, especially with Joanna Lumley being menaced in a dungeon by women vampires. But's it's often sadistic and the 1970s setting weakens the film's impact. Cushing and Lee are good, though.

-- "Countess Dracula" -- The best film I saw, Ingrid Pitt is superb as Countess Dracula, Lesley-Anne Down good as her imprisoned daughter. The film is beautifully shot, lush in color with a strong Gothic feel.