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: MARTIN (1978)

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MARTIN (1978)

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This George Romero film made in 1976, before Dawn Of The Dead, tells the story of Martin (John Amplas), a young man who thinks he is an 84 year-old vampire. Despite his belief, he knows he can’t change into a bat, the sun won’t turn him to dust and crosses and garlic won’t harm him either. He does however feed on blood and uses a syringe and razor blades to do so. He is forced to live with his extremely religious uncle Tateh Cuda (Lincoln Maazel) in Pennsylvania, who thinks Martin is an actual vampire. Now Martin must be more careful in finding victims as his uncle would just as soon put an end to his vampiric habits the old fashioned way.

As written and directed by Romero, Martin is a somber and disturbing tale of a young man acting out some deep issues under the guise of vampirism. Martin’s obviously has more grounded psychological problems such as being socially inept, homicidal and fearful of normal sexual contact. Romero daringly portrays the latter by showing Martin disrobe and lie with his unconscious female victims implying the need for far more than blood. Sadder still, is that his uncle knows of his homicidal tendencies and is so backwards in his thinking that instead of getting Martin professional help, he fills the house with garlic and crosses. Even when Martin enters an actual affair with a lonely housewife (Elyane Nadeau), he still seeks other victims for his needs. Romero creates a character that is tragic and creepy in Martin, yet also makes the young man underneath the pseudo-vampire oddly likable. The director also cleverly uses black and white flashbacks to portray Martin’s ‘memories’ of being a vampire, pursuing his victims and being pursued by angry mobs from some past time. It shows how deep-rooted Martin’s belief is as he has created his own backstory in his head. The film has a deliberately moderate pace and despite Martin’s heinous acts, the not too unexpected climax comes across as tragic and a bit sad. Martin, after all, is not a monster just a very deeply disturbed young man.

The cast all perform well, especially lead John Amplas who is able to make Martin creepy yet sympathetic and sad. There is a facet of Martin that is oddly likeable and Amplas gives him an offbeat charm despite the character’s homicidal and sexually deviate activities. Lincoln Maazel is imposing and authoritative as Martin’s old world uncle and the Van Helsing of this vampire saga. He is boorish and borderline abusive as he tries to deal with his ‘vampire’ nephew. He exemplifies the outdated thinking that hampers the treatment of the mentally ill, especially at the time this was made. There is also Christine Forrest, the future Mrs. Romero, as Martin’s sweet and sympathetic cousin, Christina, FX legend Tom Savini as her macho boyfriend and a cameo by George Romero himself as a priest.

While not discussed as much as his zombie films, this is still a very interesting film from Romero. It makes commentary on mental illness and the outdated treatment of it through it’s tragic lead character, who thinks he’s a vampire and his old fashioned, narrow minded uncle who agrees. It takes an interesting point of view as Martin is very practical about his vampirism to the point of admitting there is nothing supernatural about it. It has some very disturbing moments and some early examples of Tom Savini gore, but also makes it’s homicidal, sexual deviate a bit sympathetic as with proper care, there might be have been a good kid inside him that could have come out. Another example of Romero’s unique slant on a familiar tale.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 razors.

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE MOTH DIARIES (2012)

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THE MOTH DIARIES (2012)

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The Moth Diaries is a supernatural horror set at an all-girl boarding school where young Rebecca (Sarah Bolger from Emelie) is sent after the suicide of her writer father. She befriends the pretty Lucy (Sarah Gadon) and all seems well until the arrival of strange new student Ernessa (Lily Cole). Lucy is drawn to Ernessa and the more Rebecca tries to find out who this mysterious new girl really is, the more she begins to believe that she is faced with the very type of vampiric creature that she is reading about in her literature class. As the bodies pile up and everyone attributes Rebecca’s suspicions as a product of the troubled emotions left over from her father’s death, Rebecca decides she must deal with this monster herself. But is Ernessa truly a creature of darkness, or is Rebecca suffering delusions born of her grief over her father’s suicide?

Based on Rachel Klein’s novel, Moth Diaries is one of those movies that tries hard, but sometimes too hard for it’s own good. There is a very gothic mood to it and writer and director Mary Harron tries to give it the same period feel of a Dracula story despite being set in modern day. There are some nice visuals and effective scenes and the cast all perform well. But sometimes the film is a bit too obvious for it’s own good. Some of the scenes come across as a bit silly when maybe a bit more subtlety would have been better. Some of the voice narration by Rebecca comes across as forced, telling us things we already have figured out for ourselves. The film probably could have benefited from some of the sly humor that Harron used to perfection in the classic American Psycho, but here the tone comes across as a little too serious and it also can’t decide whether it wants to be a straight horror or something more along the lines of a Twilight movie with it’s melodramatics.

Moth Diaries is not a complete failure by any means and it has  entertainment value, but it could have been a lot better if the filmmakers weren’t trying too hard to create a goth classic in the same vein (sorry, had to) as Dracula, but with the melodramatics of the Bella and Edward saga. Maybe trying to appeal to both the Twilight crowd and the gothic horror crowd, but sometimes you can’t have it both ways. Certainly worth a look, just go in with moderate expectations. Also stars the Underworld saga’s Scott Speedman.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 fangs.

dracula_satanic rites rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: FROM THE DARK (2014)

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FROM THE DARK (2014)

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Irish horror film begins in the rural countryside where a farmer (Gerry O’Brien) is doing an excavation and unearths what appears to to be the corpse of something humanoid buried beneath the ground. It proves to be not quite dead and attacks him. At the same time young couple Sarah (Niamh Algar) and Mark (Stephen Cromwell) are traveling through the area and run into car trouble. As fate would have it, they arrive at the farmer’s home to seek help and encounter the man with a severe neck wound and acting strangely. The farmer isn’t their only problem, though, as something else is out there in the dark night…something with a thirst for human blood.

Conor McMahon’s last film was the 2012 clown horror/comedy Stitches but, here he goes for a completely serious approach as he tells his Irish vampire story. He generates some nice tension and suspense, especially when using a plot device dealing with the creatures aversion to light…of which there is a lack of. There is some nice atmosphere and McMahon gives it a deliberately smoldering pace which works very well in maintaining the mood. There is plenty of action and more than adequate blood spilling and we also get a fiery and resourceful heroine from Algar’s Sarah, who has to battle the creature once Mark is badly wounded early on. It’s a small film and true, some scenes could have used more impact but, otherwise this is a fresh twist on the time-worn vampire story and a case where the ambiguity of our blood sucking fiend works very well for it. The Nosferatu-like creature (Ged Murray) is effective and kept in shadow and there is a tense cat and mouse game between it and Sarah for the last act. McMahon also establishes Sarah and Mark’s relationship and character very quickly which helps us sympathize and empathize with them throughout the story. There is some crisp cinematography and good use of the remote Irish locations by Michael Lavelle and a spooky score by Ray Harman to add to the film overall. A solid little horror.

I liked this little movie. It could have used a bit more intensity at times but, the minimalist approach worked very well in maintaining a subtle creepiness and the scenes of full-on horror are very effective. It’s atmospheric and manages to add a few small fresh twists to vampire lore while delivering the bloodshed and suspenseful action expected. Niamh Algar makes for a very endearing and feisty heroine and our creature is effectively vicious and mysterious. A good little horror that goes for a smaller, more intimate story in an age of bombastic FX overkill. Recommended.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 fangs.

blacula_2_rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: FRIGHT NIGHT PART II (1988)

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FRIGHT NIGHT PART II (1988)

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Fright Night Part II might be one of the most under-appreciated sequels…at least by it’s distributors as it does have a cult following…of all-time, as the film got an under-the-radar limited release back in the day, despite the success of the original and even worse treatment with sub-par full-screen VHS and DVD releases. I recently able to view a LTBX copy and finally was able to watch the film as originally intended. I’d seen it before, but not in it’s original aspect ratio. The filmmaker’s original vision.

The sequel takes place 3 years after the original Fright Night. Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale) is now in college and finishing up years of therapy that has him believing Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon) was only a serial killer and the delusion of him being a vampire was all created in Charlie’s head to cope with the horrible events. Charlie also has a hot new girlfriend, Alex (80s flick cutie Tracy Lind) and hasn’t talked to Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) in years. As for the Great Vampire Killer, all the attention has gotten Vincent his Fright Night TV show hosting job back and all seems well when the two finally get together to bring closure to their horrible experience…until Charlie sees large boxes being moved into the abandoned building next to Vincent’s apartment and gets a chilling feeling of familiarity. And his deja-vu is certainly warranted as Jerry Dandrige’s vampire sister Regine (a smoldering Julie Carmen) has come to exact revenge with her ghoulish entourage, the androgynous Belle (Russell Clark, who also choreographed Carmen’s performance art sequences), lupine shapeshifter Louie (Jon Gries, who also played the werewolf with nards in Monster Squad) and hulking, insect eating chauffeur Bozworth (genre favorite Brian Thompson). Regine’s plans are simple…turn Charlie into one of the undead, murder those he loves and take over as host of Fright Night for good measure…then torture Charlie for all eternity.

I have no idea why this sequel has been treated so badly over the years. It’s not quite as good as the first flick, but is actually a pretty solid follow-up and a good deal of fun. The film is directed by John Carpenter alumni Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III, Stephen King’s It) who co-wrote the script with Tim Metcalfe and Miguel Tejeda-Flores. Wallace delivers a good looking film, having learned a lot about shot framing from Carpenter, and while it’s not quite the fun-house that the original chiller is, it mixes horror with humor well and has a number of fun/spooky scenes with plenty of action. The plot also works in giving us a second installment that isn’t forced and provides us with enough elements from Fright Night to feel like a continuation, but also does it’s own thing as Regine is a known personality, recognized as a performance artist and she moves around out in the open, as when she takes over hosting duties on the Fright Night TV show. If the film falters a bit, it’s that it’s momentum slows down somewhat in the middle act as Regine continues to seduce Charlie and Vincent is institutionalized for attacking Regine on the show’s set. The film does pick up for it’s final confrontation, though it is not as bombastic and fun as the first film’s. Overall, the movie seems to have a slightly lower budget and thus the action is a bit scaled down, but I think Wallace makes up for it with some very clever bits and by having some ghoulish fun with his premise and characters such as Regine’s thugs having a gruesome bowling night while she is off premiering on TV. The make-up FX can be a bit rubbery at times, but that adds some charm now and Brad Fiedel returns to score, so it feels like a Fright Night  film. Not sure why all the disrespect from it’s labels.

The cast are having a good time, too. Ragsdale and McDowall pick up right where they left off in the original, but with Charlie being a slightly more mature character three years later and Vincent seems to have developed a bit more of a backbone since he last battled bloodsuckers. The two actors seem to really enjoy working together and their on-screen chemistry is infectious. Lind makes a welcome addition to the team as adorable and smart Alex. In a turn of events, it is she who comes to Charlie’s rescue and proves herself a resourceful and spunky heroine in true 80s fashion. I liked her better than Amanda Bearse’s whiny Amy. Julie Carmen is smoldering-ly sexy and conveys a definite lethal quality as Regine. It is completely believable she can seduce Charlie…and those scenes are hot…despite his dealings with her kind and it is a little disappointing the actress wasn’t given an opportunity to put up a bigger fight in the scaled-down climax. As her eccentric undead thugs, Clarke (whose character is mute), Gries and Thompson all seem to be having a good time, especially the nice touch of Thompson’s Bozworth reciting the Latin genus of his insect meals before consumption. Creepy fun! A good cast who all get the tone of the material and their individual characters.

So, in conclusion, I like this sequel a lot and will never understand the terrible treatment it continues to get. It is not as good as the first film, but is a worthy enough second go around and the cast is charming as always, as is the 80s nostalgia it now carries with it. It succeeds far more than it fails and despite a slow mid-section and a slightly less exciting ending, it is a solid sequel and left me wanting to see a third installment back when I first saw it and McDowall was still with us. This film is crying out for a Scream Factory special edition, but apparently the label who owns it (I believe it’s Lionsgate) won’t budge in allowing it (so I am told), or do anything with it on it’s own. With it’s cult following, I don’t see how a release wouldn’t do well. The film also stars Merritt Butrick (Kirk’s son in Wrath Of Khan and Search For Spock) in one of his last film appearances before his AIDS related death in 1989.

3 fangs.

blacula_2_rating

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