TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1971)

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THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1971)

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Count Yorga (Robert Quarry) is back…though not sure how…and takes up refuge in an old mansion opposite an orphanage. He sets his sights on pretty teacher Cynthia (Mariette Hartley) and his fangs on all her family and friends. Can anyone stop this fiend before he takes Cynthia as his bride and everyone else as his dinner?

Sequel is directed again by Bob Kelljan from a script he co-wrote with Yvonne Wilder and is a rather dull return for Quarry’s suave Bulgarian count. Much like the first film, there are some spooky scenes, but there is also a lot of talk and the story never gets interesting enough to lure us in. Oddly the addition of an orphanage doesn’t amount to much as only one child seems to fit into Yorga’s plans and the action takes place, for the most part, in Yorga’s Mansion. Yorga himself is absent for stretches of time as the film focuses on Cynthia trapped in his lair and being taunted by his minions. As for Yorga, Quarry again makes a good vampire, but the rest of the cast is fairly wooden and Hartley isn’t given much to do but look frightened. Roger Perry again stars, but not as the same character he portrayed in the first film…which is a little off-putting. Technically the film looks good through cinematographer Bill Butler’s lens and Bill Marx’s score adds some atmosphere.

Not a big fan of the first Yorga film and this one won’t convert anyone who is not. It’s slow moving, has long stretches with no action and it’s story is routine for a vampire flick. The placement of Yorga’s lair near an orphanage doesn’t get used to it’s full potential and the fact that Yorga allows his minions to taunt his intended bride, doesn’t really make much sense either…unless he likes nutty women. A dull sequel.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 fangs.

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970)

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COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970)

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Count Yorga, Vampire was originally written as a soft core porn film and while there are slight hints of this left in the flick, (and some prints are actually called The Loves Of Count Yorga, Vampire) star Robert Quarry (Yorga) refused to do the movie unless it was done as a straight horror. While the resulting 1970 cult classic does have a bit of a reputation, it is actually a bit talky and fairly tame by today’s standards.

Quarry plays Bulgarian vampire Count Yorga who has moved to L.A. and set his fangs on a group of friends by assimilating himself into that group by dating one’s mother…who then mysteriously dies (mysteriously…cough, cough). He then gains their trust by trying to console her daughter, Donna (Donna Anders) with a seance. Soon, one by one, the count goes after the women of the group to start his vampire harem. It’s up to the men, along with a doctor friend, to stop the fiend from putting the bite on their babes.

The film is directed in a pedestrian manner by writer/director Bob Kelljan (Scream, Blacula, Scream) and while he does give us some effective scenes, (the cat, the last act in Yorga’s mansion) in general the film could have used a bit more atmosphere, tension and good old fashioned scares. Yorga is classified by some as a classic 70s horror flick and it does have that nostalgic charm, but there were other early 70s vampire flicks like Blacula and The Night Stalker that just have more bite. Quarry does make a good vampire here. He is handsome and mysterious and can exude a calm menace when Yorga needs to be threatening, but he isn’t given all that much to do as there is a lot of scenes with characters sitting around talking and very little actual action. Quarry is definitely key in making the scenes that are effective work, especially when the film finally picks up a bit in the last act. The rest of the cast, thought, are rather bland and it seems really odd that the first character to suggest the work of a vampire, is the doctor (Roger Perry), who, as a man of science, should be the most skeptical. Also amusing is how quickly the rest of the characters go along with it.

Overall, this is an OK movie and there definitely is some entertainment value, especially with the 70s nostalgia elements, but it’s not quite the flick it’s reputation suggests it is. It is typical of the type of film American International Pictures was releasing at the time and probably would fit right in with the Blacula films, Dracula A.D. 1972 and The Night Stalker as part of a 70s vampire movie marathon.

EXTRA TRIVIA: in a move that echoes some of today’s big studio decisions, Yorga had a number of gore scenes removed by AIP to get a PG rating (GP back in those days for some reason) and reach a larger audience. Today on DVD, those scenes are restored and the film is now rated, ironically, PG-13.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 fangs.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE BLIND DEAD SERIES

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THE BLIND DEAD SERIES (1971-1975)

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The Blind Dead series are four cult classic horror films written and directed by Spanish filmmaker Amando de Ossorio during the 70s. They tell four separate stand-alone tales about a sect of 14th century Templar knights who turned away from the church to Satanism and were excommunicated and executed for their rituals of human sacrifice and drinking of blood. They did, however, achieve a sort of immortality from their horrific ceremonies and now rise from their graves to continue their gruesome ways. They are blind…though the reasons vary per film…and hunt their prey by sound.

While a little too slow moving for me, personally, to truly embrace them as favorites, I do enjoy watching these spooky films. They are held in high regard, due to their thick atmosphere and creepy visuals…deservedly so…and are even believed, by many, to have been a strong influence on John Carpenter’s The Fog… but, more on that later…

 TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971)

Knotombs_of_blind_dead_poster_01wn in it’s native land as La noche del terror ciego, the first of this series centers around an abandoned monastery that holds the tombs of the Templar Knights executed for their practice of dark rituals. It is avoided by all of the locals and the subject of fearful folklore. A set of circumstances leads a woman to stay the night on the grounds and she falls victim to the bloodthirsty walking corpses who rise from their tombs. When her husband and friend form a search party to go looking for her, what they find is a nightmare they may not escape. The film is extremely atmospheric and Ossorio certainly knows how to make a horror film look spooky. The FX and gore may be a bit cheesy by today’s standards but, are still effective and the film can be quite unsettling with it’s walking skeletons that mercilessly stalk and gruesomely slay our characters in the abandoned monastery setting. A very creepy film. Stars Lone Fleming, César Burner and María Elena Arpón.

3 star rating

RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD (1973)

El Areturn of the blind deadtaque de los Muertos Sin Ojos is the second and arguably the best of the series. It takes place in the Portuguese city of Bouzano where there is a grand celebration going on to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the defeat and burning alive of a sect of Templar Knights that terrorized the village with black magic and human sacrifice. The Knights vowed revenge and when an angry local summons them from their tombs, the celebration becomes a slaughter and a remote church may be the survivors’ last hope. This flick is also very atmospheric, has some generous blood-letting and once again has a spooky visual style that can chill the bones. Ossorio gives his silent Templar Knights a lot of menace and their are some vivid flashbacks to give their vengeful characters weight. A strong entry in the series if not the pinnacle. Stars Tony Kendall, Fernando Sancho and Esperanza Roy.

3 star rating

THE GHOST GALLEON (1974)

El ghost galleonBuque maldito is the third and possibly the weakest of the four films but, is still very creepy and atmospheric at times. This story tells of a pair of pretty models adrift at sea for an outrageous…and dangerous…P.R. campaign for the new boat they are on. They encounter a fog bank and within an ancient Spanish Galleon that looks centuries old. When they board it, they find it filled with the walking corpses of the Templar Knights who proceed to gruesomely slay them. When a search party comes looking for them, they may be heading toward a horrifying fate aboard the ghostly ship. This entry might be the silliest story-wise, though, it has some of the best visuals with it’s ghost ship setting filled with the blind dead. It is slower moving than the usual moderate pace of these flicks and is sometimes hard to believe when a character is in peril and no one hears their screams, despite being not far away. On the plus side, the setting is very claustrophobic and the production design very effective. The lesser of the four, but not by much as the Templars are still effectively spooky! Stars Maria Perschy, Jack Taylor and Barbara Rey.

2 and 1-2 star rating

THE NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS (1975)

La Nocnight of the seagullshe de las gaviotas is the fourth and final film and is a bit stronger than Galleon. Returning to a land-based setting, this entry takes place in a secluded coastal village where a young city doctor and his wife have come to set up a practice as the local doctor retires. They are not well-received and soon they find they have walked into a setting from a bad dream. A nearby monastery houses the walking corpses of an evil sect of Templar Knights who, every seven years for seven days, descend upon the village where they are appeased by being offered seven village maidens as a sacrifice. When the doctor intercedes to save one girl, there is hell to pay…literally. Once again the film is atmospheric and has some disturbing scenes, especially in it’s flashbacks to the Templar’s heinous sacrificial ceremonies. The Knights remain creepy and effective and there is the expected amounts of gore to go with the chills. Ossorio quit while he was ahead and this entry does serve as a fitting climax to the series. Stars Victor Petit, Maria Kosti and Sandra Mosarosky.

3 star rating

And what about the alleged influence on John Carpenter’s classic The Fog?

THE FOG (1980)

fog_posterWhile I have never read Carpenter acknowledge any influences from Ossorio’s series…he has sighted the 1958 film The Crawling Eye and some real-life events as inspiration…some of the similarities are fascinatingly close. In the first film, there is a scene of a victim rising off of a slab in a morgue and sneaking up behind the mortician that evokes the similar scene of the corpse rising off the slab in Dr. Phibes’ office, to startle Jamie Lee Curtis in Carpenter’s film. Return of the Blind Dead features a last act where the Templars have the survivors trapped in a remote church which is exactly where the survivors find themselves in The Fog‘s intense ending. The Ghost Galleon may be the weakest film, but it bares the strongest resemblance to Carpenter’s ghost story with a haunted ship filled with walking corpses that is shrouded in a mysterious perpetual fog bank…much like Blake and his vengeful crew of lepers. Finally, Seagulls is set in a remote coastal village much like the atmospheric fishing village of Antonio Bay, that is setting of The Fog. If these are all mere coincidences, they are ones as spooky as the films they involve! It’s hard to believe this series wasn’t an influence on one of Carpenter’s spookiest classics, but the director himself has listed other inspirations…that do make sense, too. The Crawling Eye involved it’s creatures shrouded in a mysterious fog, as well and some of the historical events fit perfectly as the basis of Carpenter’s work. Who knows? Either way, as horror fans, we win!…as all five films are horror classics in their own right!

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Were Amando Ossorio’s Templar Knights inspiration for…

fog ghosts

John Carpenter’s Captain Blake and crew?…we may never know for sure…

-MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976)

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THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976)

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The Town That Dreaded Sundown is considered a classic and has a reputation but, personally, I don’t get it. Maybe it’s that I finally have caught up with it now and not back in the day when it made it’s impact but, I found the film dull and even silly at times.

The film takes place in 1946 Texarkana, Arkansas and is based on a real series of murders (check out Killer Legends for the scoop on the real case) that happened in that year and area by an individual that was dubbed “The Phantom Killer”. This horror flick dramatizes the events with a pseudo-documentary format, complete with monotone narration, as this small town becomes immobilized with fear as a masked killer stalks the night. In the actual case, the killer was never caught and his activities ceased as mysteriously as they began. The film version follows the small town’s Deputy (Andrew Prine) as he teams with a notorious Texas Ranger (Ben Johnson) to try and catch this madman.

Charles B Pierce (Legend Of Boggy Creek) directs Earl E. Smith’s script with a very slow pace, which would be alright if it wasn’t also given such a deadpan tone. The documentary-like structure robs the film of any real intensity or atmosphere as it comes off like one of those old fashioned school warning films that you can watch on Youtube. The only time the film livens up is for some really obtrusive comic relief sequences surrounding a bumbling deputy nicknamed “Sparkplug” (ironically played by director Pierce). These sequences stick out like a sore thumb, though and the silly slapstick completely undermines the dreadfully serious tone of the rest of the film. They almost seem like they are from a completely different movie and really have no place in a flick that is trying to present a series of horrific events that should be taken seriously. The killings are disturbing and bloody but, nothing that really had impact enough to really grab me, though that can be forgiven as they are based on fact. For the most part I was bored and very disappointed but, not being a big fan of Pierce’s Boggy Creek either… which suffered from the same problems… it wasn’t all that much of a surprise. Maybe in the 70s this was considered a disturbing flick but, now it’s tame, dull and, at it’s worst points, very silly. With a chilling real series of events to base this on, it’s sad how little this film captures the horror of what actually happened and fails to really bring to life the fear with which it gripped a small town community.

The cast, which also includes Gilligan’s Island’s Dawn Wells, all perform with the same monotone as the film’s narration by Vern Stierman. Prine and Johnson are veteran actors but, here they seem like they are just going through the motions with Johnson giving a bit of arrogance and pompousness to his Texas Ranger but, far from his usual rich character work. The only actor who shows some life is, unfortunately Pierce whose comic bits mimic Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show. Wells plays one of the killers victims who survives and as most of her role is screaming and crying, she’s fine. A decent cast but, sadly without the guidance of a more sure-handed director.

So basically, I found little to like about this crime/horror thriller and it’s reputation is a mystery to me. It’s slow moving, has little atmosphere and what little effect the murder sequences have, is eradicated by shamelessly slapstick comic relief performed by the director himself. It’s sad that a film based on actual events that are chilling on their own, couldn’t make effective use of a plot that is already written in real history. Watch the documentary Killer Legends for a far more effective segment on the actually events that inspired this ‘classic’ film. There is currently a remake… that sounds more like a sequel… in release that sounds like it could be a lot better or at least a far more entertaining film.

2 phantom killers.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CARRIE (1976)

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CARRIE (1976)

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Carrie garnered a reputation of being a terrifying movie experience back in ’76 when it was released and all I heard from my sister and her friends was how scary it was. Not old enough to go see it in a theater, I had to wait to finally catch up to it on HBO a year or so later and was soundly disappointed. To me it didn’t live up to the hype. I recently decided to revisit it decades later to see if I still felt the same way or, was I, and the film, a victim of too high expectations. So does the film live up to it’s reputation and it’s classic status?… Not really.

Carrie’s main problem is that it’s slow moving and dull. The story of the shy and picked-on daughter (Sissy Spacek) of a religious fanatic mother (Piper Laurie in an over-the-top performance), who develops telekinetic powers, is really uneventful between the infamous opening shower/period scene and the infamous prom sequence. There are some cheesy effects sequences along the way as Carrie begins to grow in strength and, through her new powers, rebel against her mother and ultimately avenge herself against pretty much everyone. But, the whole film is a set up for the prom scene and once that comes, it’s actually kind of tame and it’s over far too quickly to have any lasting impact. Brian DePalma films things with a nice look but, really doesn’t achieve a whole lot in the hour it takes to get Carrie to the prom. Basically it’s a slow set up as the teens who tormented Carrie are punished and then decide to get back at her for being punished. So, Sue (Amy Irving) conveniently asks her boyfriend to take Carrie to the prom to make it up to her and thus sets up the perfect revenge for the nasty Chris (Nancy Allen) and her jerk of a boyfriend, Billy (John Travolta). And that’s another thing. DePalma never makes it clear whether Sue is in on the set up plot or not until the actual prom. And since she’s not, it’s just too much of a coincidence that she accidentally helps Chris set up a nasty surprise for the unsuspecting and now blissfully happy Carrie. It’s no surprise that the nasty prank involving pig’s blood triggers Carrie’s new skill and she unleashes them on everyone involved but, again her wrath is quick and rather tame and the best part of this sequence is the build of how Carrie comes to relax and be happy for the first time, as her date starts to really enjoy her company. Here DePalma scores as it’s heartbreaking that such a cruel joke is played on a sad young girl enjoying happiness for the first time. But, it is a horror flick and it’s too bad her wrath doesn’t carry the power of the scenes leading up to it. Even Carrie’s eventual final confrontation with her religious zealot mother is more corny then scary or shocking.

The cast is fine with Spacek really standing out and Laurie going a bit overboard. The rest of the characters are all cardboard teachers and delinquent students, so, there is not much for the actors to do. As stated before, DePalma directs with a slow burn from Lawrence D. Cohen’s thin script based on a Stephen King novel and that would be OK if he gave the payoff more impact and used his slow built to strongly develop the situations instead of breezing through them to get to his grand finale.

In conclusion, Carrie needed a bit more running time to more finely develop it’s story and characters and could have used more intensity from it’s payoff scenes. A moderate film with a far bigger reputation them it deserves.

2 and 1/2 Carries.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE EVIL (1978)

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THE EVIL (1978)

This 1978 haunted house flick, released by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, spooked me quite a bit as a kid. And upon a recent revisit, I still found it to be a fun, nostalgic good time, but obviously for different reasons. It may be tame and kind of silly by today’s standards, but as 70s B-movie horror entertainment, it’s delightfully effective. The film opens with drunk caretaker Sam (Ed Bakey) grumbling about having to clean up the large old house he now enters. He hears children laughing once inside and follows the sounds into the basement to the cold, dead furnace…which promptly blazes to life and sets him on fire. Creepy old house now has our attention! We soon find the large old house is being renovated by psychologist, C.J. Arnold (Richard Crenna) as a clinic, along with his doctor wife Caroline (Joanna Pettet). They are getting help from volunteers and friends who are going to work and live there over the summer till it is ready to open. Despite some spooky occurrences during the walk-through and local tales that the house and grounds are haunted, they move in anyway and begin work. And as soon as they do, the weirdness begins such as apparitions, strange noises, moving objects and a seemingly friendly pet dog who turns vicious. As a man of science, C.J. refuses to believe there is anything supernatural going on, even when his wife finds a diary that warns of an ancient doorway to evil within the house, that has been sealed and must never be opened. So, of course, when C.J. finds a stone door in the cellar floor sealed by a cross…he removes the cross and opens it. To say all hell breaks loose is far more appropriate than you think, as now the house is sealed by some horrible force and the trapped guests are being tormented and murdered one by one in gruesome ways. Will they find a way to escape with their lives?…and their souls?

Written and directed by Gus Trikonis (Moonshine County Express), The Evil has everything you could want from a 70s B-Movie haunted house flick. There’s cheesy apparitions with dire warnings, levitations, diabolical echoing laughter, an endless thunderstorm, possessions, horrible deaths and even a showdown with Old Scratch (Victor Buono) himself. What more could you want to go along with a six pack of your favorite poison on a Saturday night?  Trikonis’ style is pretty straightforward and he takes his material seriously, but he is definitely having fun with his supernatural story, as it’s elements are presented with just the right touch of theatricality and flair. The cheesy dialog and simple FX work all the better because, it is presented sincerely and not made a joke of. It’s not the intense, visceral horror of today’s standards…though there are some violent moments that are still effective…but the film has it’s devious heart in the right place and I appreciate the daring of having our atheist hero actually come face to face with the Prince Of Darkness himself for a James Bond-ish hero vs. villain Tête-à-Tête at the film’s climax. It works better then you think, especially due to some witty dialog and Buono’s malice drenched performance that goes just over-the-top enough without becoming camp.

The rest of the cast take their parts seriously, too, with Crenna giving us a man of science who is resisting the notion that the supernatural things he’s disbelieved all his life may be far too real. And to survive, he may have to turn to the God, whose existence he has always denied. Pettet gives us a solid heroine in his wife and as she’s a doctor, too, she is strong-willed and a fighter, though far more receptive to what she is experiencing than her husband. The supporting cast, including 70s mainstays Andrew Prine and Cassie Yates, all do well in creating likable people out of characters who all face possible doom in the grasp of an ancient evil right out of a bedtime story. It’s treating the material with respect and playing it straight by cast and crew that makes this film so much fun. If it were played for laughs, then we as the audience would appreciate it much less. Our entertainment comes from the fact that it’s all being presented to us in a serious manner, whether it be the house’s former tenant possessing Caroline right before C.J.’s eyes, or his arguing there must be a scientific explanation for a house filled with diabolical laughter locking you and your friends inside. Sure doc…it’s the humidity.

It all comes down to a really entertaining 70s B-Movie horror that, while it may not be perfect and may not scare like it did back in it’s day, still thoroughly entertains for much different reasons and that, is still entertainment after all. A flick made unintentionally campy by the passage of time, but still not without some very effective moments. A prime example of fun, nostalgic 70s B-Movie horror!

3 delightfully devilish Buonos.

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