Friday, May 7, 2010

I Drink Your Blood (1970) review


Bhaskar (Horace Bones), Rhonda Fultz (Molly), Riley Mills (Pete), Jadine Wong (Sue Lin), George Patterson (Rollo), John Damon (Roger), Lynn Lowry (Carrie)

Directed by David Durston (1921-2010)

***WARNING! This review contains images of nudity and violence***

A gang of satanic hippies raise hell in a small town. After beating up an old man and terrorizing his granddaughter, the young grandson gets revenge by injecting blood from a rabid dog into meat pies and passing them onto the traveling band of multi cultural devil worshippers. Consuming the contaminated pies causes the group to become rabid, raving maniacs who then run around killing and spreading the contagion to others. A small group of survivors hole up in a store while the crazies try to get inside.

The late David Durston (he has sadly passed away either today, or within the last few days; reported from Code Red DVD blog) directed this huge cult favorite whose legacy is better than the actual movie. That's not to say that this tale of rabies induced mayhem isn't worth a look. It's definitely worthy to be on any self respecting exploitation fans DVD shelf, just that over the years leading up to its eventual DVD release (first from Grindhouse Releasing, then Fangoria), the picture was hyped to high heaven. Seeing it now, it definitely has a high sleaze quotient, but isn't quite the nasty number it's been touted as over the years.

There's a lot of violence and gore, but it's all fairly amateurish, but in a very fun, amusing way. The plot is so outrageous, that the H.G. Lewis level gore effects lend it some special appeal. There's a bit of nudity on hand and a relatively disgusting scene where a pregnant woman stabs herself in the stomach with a sharp implement.

Lynn Lowry, an actress with popularity in cult film circles was also in George Romero's original THE CRAZIES (1973). Interestingly, Durston's movie is a warped, insane take on his own NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), but in color, lacking social commentary and possessing zero redeeming values of any kind. That's a recommendation, actually. There's definitely a lot of energy here, but again, it's one of those movies you've heard a lot about whose reputation is ultimately bigger and better than the movie itself.

The acting on hand is what's to be expected for a picture like this. Once the hippies become infected with rabies, several of the groups members decide to pull a Spinal Tap and crank up the ham to 11. Main villain, Bhaskar steals the show with his enthusiasm, though. But again, once he becomes rabid, his fun delivery is pretty much over as dialog is kept to a minimum and mayhem takes over. The musical score (if you can call it that) is very intrusive and ear piercing at times.

The wonderful DVD from Grindhouse Releasing is lovingly put together and still has some of the damn coolest animated menus I have ever seen. I don't know if the later Fangoria release retained them, or not, but you can do all kinds of cool things with the menus and there's a massive collage of features and some hidden, too. One of the best is some kind of a snake dance performed by Bhaskar some years ago. It's an awesome package for a movie that, up until it's restored DVD release back in 2002, was only available in a compromised bootleg edition with serious cuts.

I DRINK YOUR BLOOD (1970) is a fun trash film and one that all lovers of sleazy cinematic shit stains should sit down and savor at least once in their life. Terribly overhyped, it nonetheless delivers the gore groceries and has one of the wildest, most out of control plotlines in exploitation history. You can see more of the film in SINS OF CELLULOID PART 1.

This review is representative of the Grindhouse Releasing DVD

Scars of Dracula (1970) review


Christopher Lee (Dracula), Jenny Hanley (Sarah), Dennis Waterman (Simon), Patrick Troughton (Klove), Michael Gwynn (Priest), Christopher Matthews (Paul)

Directed by Roy Ward Baker

Castle Dracula is burned after local villagers gather their courage to march on the shadowy bastion. Returning home, the villagers discover the women have been butchered by Dracula's flock of giant bats. Meanwhile, a young man named Paul, chased by the Burgomaster for a sexual tryst with his daughter, finds himself a guest at Dracula's home. Paul's brother, Simon and his lady friend, Sarah, go looking for Paul and soon discover his fate. The couple then must combat the evil of Dracula and free the village forever.

SCARS OF DRACULA marks a lot of firsts for this series. It's the first R rated Hammer Dracula movie released in the United States. It's enhanced (or hindered depending on ones taste) by a heightened amount of gruesome violence including a scene where Dracula stabs one his vampiric slaves to death(!). It also contains a nifty shot of Dracula scaling the walls of his castle and also, after many years of complaining, Christopher Lee gets a wagon cart full of dialog to speak throughout the movie.

It also contains the most amazingly distasteful method for Dracula's resurrection. Right at the outset, a huge bat flies into Dracula's inner sanctum and proceeds to puke up a thick, sanguinary substance on his ashes thereby bringing him to life. It's not explained just how his ashes got up into this small room which has no means of getting in, or out. It's also the first Chris Lee Dracula movie to show him holding dominion over animals; in this case, a group of huge bats. Also, Lee's make up really makes him look like a member of the undead. His powers are also given a hint of the supernatural such as doors opening on there own when he enters or exits a room.

SCARS OF DRACULA is also a first in that there was no funding from an American studio. For whatever reason, Warner Brothers passed on the project. Possibly due to the lackluster receipts for TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, American audiences were becoming accustomed to a more rowdy and raw approach to horror. These types of movies with oldeworld appeal were on their way out. Hammer was desperate to win over this new audience by adding more sex and violence and SCARS had a little sex and an abundance of violence.

Dracula frequently savages his servant, Klove by burning his back with a red hot sword. A body is chopped up, one character is impaled, a group of women are mutilated inside a church and one scene that was removed from the film, saw Dracula drinking blood from the belly wound of his female vampire slave after repeatedly stabbing her with a knife. Patrick Troughton (Klove) was one of many actors to play DOCTOR WHO and also acted in other Hammer horror movies such as THE GORGON (1964) and briefly during the opening of FRANKENSTEIN & THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974).

Over the years the film amassed a bit of a cult following despite a lot of people displaying detestation for it. It was the very first Hammer movie I ever saw on VHS tape in the early 1980's and I was blown away by it. At that time, it was my favorite Hammer picture. It definitely grows on you over time. Even Chris Lee, who on the DVD commentary, shows some admiration for the movie now.

Despite a shorter schedule and less money afforded the budget, the crew made do with what they had. Regardless of how cheap some of it looks, the film has some strikingly Gothic matte shots of the castle exterior such as when Simon is trying to lower himself down to Dracula's hidden hideaway. The movie is also unique in that it's strictly a stand alone affair. It bears no connection to any other series entry. It's just there. The film fails in its ending. The death of Dracula would seem to be spectacular, but death by lightning bolt, while creative, comes off sloppy in the finished movie. Not to mention Eddie Powell is clearly wearing a mask the few seconds you seem him on fire. BENNY HILL fans will recognize Bob Todd as the Burgomaster.

Roy Ward Baker directed some choice Hammer films in his career, at least by my estimation. He did THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970), DR. JEKYLL & SISTER HYDE (1971) as well as Hammer's last Dracula production sans Christopher Lee, LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974), an action packed co-production between the then dying Hammer and world renowned Shaw Brothers studio. SCARS OF DRACULA (1970) is deserving of reevaluation and isn't nearly as bad as some of the company's other 70's output like the boring COUNTESS DRACULA (1971) and the slapdash LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1971).

This review is representative of the Anchor Bay two disc edition

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) review


Christopher Lee (Dracula), Geoffrey Keen (William Hargood), Linda Hayden (Alice Hargood), Peter Sallis (Samuel Paxton), Anthony Corlan (Paul Paxton), John Carson (Jonathan Secker), Ralph Bates (Lord Courtley)

Directed by Peter Sasdy

Three men of some reputation lead alternate lives as seedy playboys seeking carnal thrills. Wishing to partake in something new and exciting, the three gentlemen meet up with the mysterious Lord Courtley. Promising them sights unseen if only they participate in a devilish ceremony, the three men eventually realize what Courtley offers isn't what expected. Leaving the Devil's disciple for dead, the three men make a pact to never repeat what they've done. However, Dracula is resurrected and seeks revenge for the murder of his apostate by using the three men's children as instruments of his vengeance.

Chris Lee returns in a direct sequel to the previous RISEN FROM THE GRAVE picture much to his dismay. What's funny about this one is that the script originally wasn't written as a Dracula movie, but to have revolved around his disciple played by Ralph Bates. As Lee was continuously asking for more money to appear as Dracula, the Hammer execs felt it would be too costly. Apparently, Warner Brothers was not keen on this idea and insisted that Lee be a part of the movie anyways and paid him enough extra for his liking. So the character of Dracula was worked in "as an afterthought", as Lee liked to put it in regards to the sequels he participated in. Lee has the least amount of screen time here than in all of the others.

He literally does next to nothing but stand around and look menacing. He puts the bite on one of the girls and that's about it. He commands the young adults to carry out the revenge which is a characteristically brutal touch just the same. But as has been stated time and time again, Dracula is reduced to a background character in his own movie.

Ralph Bates was chosen for his performance in a series entitled THE CAESARS which had Bates playing Caligula. It's a shame Bates didn't get to headline this Dracula production. Instead, he got to take the lead in the dismal and only occasionally humorous HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN that same year. His big break to show off his acting chops came with DR. JEKYLL & SISTER HYDE (1971).

The films location was also changed from Transylvania to Victorian London. The change in locale adds a fresh approach to the production in addition to a contrasting set design. This was also a slightly sexier Hammer horror as there was nudity and added bloody violence with much of it being cut for the American release. The cuts made in the US version are quite jarring even disrupting the pounding soundtrack from James Bernard. Thankfully, the recent Warner DVD is the complete version. In the original script, the film was to have been even more violent as Courtley was to have been stabbed multiple times during his death scene.

For whatever reason, the accent on characterization is given a lot of attention this time out compared with the problems Freddie Francis had in the previous film. Little is done with Dracula, though. Chris Lee seemingly refused some of the dialog inherent in the original script from Anthony Hinds resulting in it either being altered or removed entirely. Hungarian director, Sasdy also directed the very good later Hammer horror, HANDS OF THE RIPPER (1971). He was also responsible for the mostly drab COUNTESS DRACULA (1971).

The ending is the most unusual and creative of the entire Dracula series. Since setting up camp within the defiled church, the couple are cornered there by Dracula who attempt to fend him off with a large cross. Now on an upper level of the church, Dracula smashes a stained glass window and suddenly you hear a prayer being echoed in the background. The church has suddenly been transformed into a house of holiness and Dracula is destroyed by God himself.

Containing great performances, an imposing musical score and a good script accompanied by added violence, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970) is easily one of the best entries in the series despite the amount of screen time afforded the King of the Undead.

This review is representative of the Warner DVD

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968) review


Christopher Lee (Dracula), Rupert Davies (Monsignor Ernst Muller), Barry Andrews (Paul), Veronica Carlson (Maria Muller), Ewan Hooper (Priest), Barbara Ewing (Zena)

Directed by Freddie Francis

With the evil spirit of Dracula still looming over the village of Keineneburg, the occupants continue to live in fear that he may return. Monsignor Muller enters the hamlet and asks a frightened priest to accompany him to Castle Dracula to exorcise the hellish citadel by affixing a cross to the front door. Later, Dracula is accidentally resurrected and promises revenge against the Monsignor and his family for profaning his home.

Struck by a motorbike breaking his leg, original director, Fisher was out of the picture as was the original producer who was likewise involved in an accident while playing golf of all things. Famed cinematographer, Freddie Francis stepped in. Francis wasn't entirely thrilled to be directing such a film, but he turned out one of the best in the series. Fisher's cinematographic eye is put to good use in the director's chair as this entry has some strikingly high quality shots. The color filters may go a bit overboard, but all the matte paintings are beautiful to behold.

Notice the reflection of Lee in the glass door to the left. In the film, Dracula also casts a reflection in a pool of water

Apparently, Fisher included a lot more romance between Carlson and Andrews. When the film was finished, he went on vacation and upon his return, he discovered much of said romance had been removed in favor of the horror. Regardless, the film was a monster of a success becoming the biggest hit of all the Hammer dracula pictures. Being funded entirely by Warner-Seven Arts, the famed British horror company would only savor big studio support for a few more years before such Gothic trappings as Dracula and Frankenstein became passe.

Some notable mentions include Christopher Lee's embarrassment when Hammer received the Queen's Award while shooting Dracula's demise. The character of Dracula has less to do than in the previous movie, but Lee makes do with what he has and is quite riveting in the few lines he's allowed to utter. For years, Lee showed much contempt for the sequence wherein he removes the stake from his chest because Paul (Barry Andrews) is an atheist and can't finish the prayer necessary to destroy the vampire! It's still one of the best scenes in the movie. It would be interesting to know what Lee thinks of it today.

Veronica Carlson is lovely to look at and ultimately became one of the best loved heroines in these movies. What little characterization between her character, Maria and Paul is still noteworthy especially the juggling of religious beliefs. The clash between those with faith and those without makes for an interesting plot point which figures wonderfully into the above mentioned staking sequence.

The subject of faith also figures into the cowardly priest who is so terrified for his own life, he lowers himself to being a slave to Dracula up until the end when it is he who finally sends Dracula back to rotten Hell. Dracula's destruction is also one of the best of the series. It's the first time he's done in with a staking, but it's more ingenious in that the instrument of his termination is the gigantic cross that covered the entrance to his castle. During this sequence, Dracula also sheds tears of blood, another nice touch.

The beginning of the movie presents something of a problem, though. The corpse of a pretty lady is found hanging from a church bell with blood dripping from her neck, the victim of a vampire. Since Dracula still remains dormant beneath a frozen river, how did she die? I am going to assume, then, that the vampires spirit was responsible for the death. The next film in the series was a direct sequel and ultimately shifted the location away from the typical Eastern European locations.

With a new director and a new look, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) is a success all around and possesses an aura of a macabre fairy tale that wouldn't be seen in any other Dracula picture.

This review is representative of the Warner Brothers DVD

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