Friday, October 22, 2021

"Kronos:" Hammer's Sword-Wielding Hero

Films which cross-pollinate genres are all the rage these days, but in years past they were far less common. Hammer Films, the British makers of classic horror films such as the long-running Dracula and Frankenstein series, actually attempted some multi-genre productions several times throughout their history. For example, the three films in the Professor Quatermass series, The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)Quatermass 2 (1957) and Five Million Years To Earth (1967), all contained elements of both science-fiction and horror. In the 1970s, when some of their films were attaining less box-office success than in their late 1950s and 1960s glory years, Hammer made a couple of overt attempts at genre mashups. The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1974) was a co-production with Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers studio. The film, set in China in the 1800s, starred genre stalwart Peter Cushing as Professor Van Helsing, and combined elements of Hammer’s Dracula series with martial arts action.


One of the more offbeat projects to be released by Hammer during this period is Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter (1974), which features the adventures of the title character, a swashbuckling hero who hunts down and kills vampires, aided by his hunch-backed assistant, Professor Grost, an expert on the undead. The story begins when Dr. Marcus, an old army buddy of Kronos, contacts him and asks Kronos to look into a series of bizarre deaths which are occurring in his village. When Kronos and Grost arrive and look into the killings, they discover that the undead menace is draining youth, not blood, from its victims, leaving withered husks behind. Aided by a gypsy girl named Carla, whose life our hero has saved, Kronos and Grost try to locate the vampire and extinguish this evil creature.


Krono’s investigation leads him to the Durwards, a wealthy and aristocratic family. After a group of thugs attack Kronos and Grost, they realize that someone doesn’t want them to discover the true identity of the vampire. As he continues his search, Kronos finds time to drink tankards of ale, engage in a brawl or two, and of course, romance the lovely Carla. Who is the youth-draining vampire, and why does Marcus return from a visit to the Durward home with blood on his lips? Will Kronos and Grost figure out a way to defeat this very different type of vampire threat before it’s too late? There will be some eerie and frightening moments, sword-swinging action and a couple of unique twists on vampire lore before the terrifying truth is revealed.


Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter is a decidedly different type of Hammer production, combining swashbuckling adventure with horror and the supernatural. The film was written and directed by Brian Clemens, best known for his work on the classic British series The Avengers and The Professionals, as well as Thriller, a well-regarded mystery/suspense themed anthology series. Albert Fennell, who also worked on The Avengers and The Professionals, co-produced the movie. Clemens and Fennell had earlier co-produced another Hammer film, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), which was written by Clemens. First-time director Clemens keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, and the movie is as much an old-fashioned action-adventure tale as it is a horror film. Ian Wilson provides some striking cinematography, and the evocative score is by Laurie Johnson, another veteran of The Avengers.


Horst Janson is an athletic and dynamic hero, and John Cater is good as his partner, Professor Grost. The rest of the cast features several faces that will be quite familiar to genre fans, including Shane Briant, Wanda Ventham and Ian Hendry. Carla is portrayed by Caroline Munro, who’s well known for her appearances in films such as The Golden Voyage of SinbadAt The Earth’s Core, The Spy Who Loved Me and Starcrash. Hammer had hoped this well-mounted production would launch a series of Kronos adventures, but the film was not a huge success at the box office, so no sequels were produced. Captain Kronos did return in comics form during the 1970s in two British publications dedicated to Hammer, The House of Hammer and Hammer’s Halls of Horror. There was also a novelization of the film written by Guy Adams published by Titan Books in 2011, and a four issue Captain Kronos comic book series from Titan Comics in 2018. The film is available on DVD and Blu-ray. Here's a link to the film’s trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PbRzrGTt2E.


This article on Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter is part of the Third Annual Hammer/Amicus Blogathon, celebrating the best of this pair of much revered and beloved British horror film companiesI’d like to thank my fellow bloggers Gil from Realweegie Midget Reviews and Barry from Cinematic Catharsis for hosting, and for including me in the lineup. Check out the work of the other talented writers participating in this blogathon by following this link: https://weegiemidget.wordpress.com/blogathons/blogathons-2021/whos-doing-what-in-the-third-great-hammer-amicus-blogathon/.

 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Curtis Harrington's Beguiling "Night Tide"

Linda Lawson and Dennis Hopper in Night Tide

October is that time of year when horror fans like to revisit old favorites and check out films they haven't seen before. One of the more intriguing and offbeat thrillers to come out of the early 1960s is Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide (1961). While it’s not really a horror film, it’s an atmospheric, offbeat story that will appeal to old school genre fans. A lonely sailor named Johnny (Dennis Hopper, in an early role) enters a relationship with a woman named Mora, who performs as a mermaid in a sideshow at a local marina. People keep telling him that her previous boyfriends have all met mysterious and violent ends. 


The ethereal Mora (Linda Lawson) believes she may actually be a mermaid. As their relationship continues, a mysterious woman stalks Mora. She appears to know about Mora’s past, and warns her that her 'true nature' will eventually show itself. Is Mora really descended from a race of sea people? Who is killing the men she’s been dating? What does Murdock, the owner of the sideshow, know about all this?


Writer-director Harrington had a long career directing both television movies and feature films. Other films he was behind the camera for include the twist-laden mystery Games (1967), which featured James Caan and Katherine Ross, and What's The Matter With Helen? (1971), starring Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters. He also helmed one of my favorite made for television terror tales, The Cat Creature (1973), which starred David Hedison, Meredith Baxter and Kent Smith. Harrington's films are consistently enjoyable, and always worth a look.


In Night Tide, (which was completed in 1961, but not widely released until 1963) Harrington evokes the mist-shrouded style of producer Val Lewton. He was a huge fan of Lewton’s work and the influence of films like Cat People and The Leopard Man on Night Tide is clear. There could be a supernatural explanation for some of the film’s events, but we’re never really sure. What is evident is that some of the characters believe there are eerie forces at work, and that informs their choices in the story. Despite its low budget, the film manages to convey an effective sense of the uncanny. Night Tide has a dream-like aura, and the moody cinematography by Vilis Lapenieks adds to the film's otherworldly style.


The movie has been released in new, remastered editions in recent years by Kino Lorber Video and Powerhouse Indicator, and it's also available on streaming services like Amazon Prime. I recall seeing Night Tide on WPIX's “Chiller Theatre” in my younger days, and it was one of those movies that lingered in my memory in the years since. I've re-visited the movie several times, and recommended it to other film fans in my circle of friends. If you haven't seen the film, its well worth seeking out. Here's a link to the trailer for Night Tide: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LF6gPQh5t0A

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Ruth Ware's Compelling, Eerie "Key"

The Turn of the Screw, the much-loved ghost story by Henry James, has been adapted multiple times for both television and the movies, most famously as The Innocents, the well-regarded 1961 film featuring Deborah Kerr. Another take on the story was the 2020 Netflix series, The Haunting of Bly Manor, from writer-director Mike Flanagan. In 2019, author Ruth Ware set her version of the story in the current day, with her novel The Turn of the Key. Ware is the author of several best-selling suspense thrillers, including In A Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10 and One By One. The Turn of the Key is an eerie, compelling and very cleverly conceived update to the classic story of the The Turn of the Screw.

The book is structured as a series of letters from a young woman in prison, who's writing to an attorney. Rowan Caine is a nanny that's awaiting trial for the murder of one of the children who were under her care. She's telling her story, in hopes of making the lawyer understand the series of events that led to her being imprisoned. Rowan had accepted what at first seemed like a dream job as a nanny to four children at an estate in the Scottish Highlands, but as with many things in life, this ideal opportunity turned out to be too good to be true.

When the parents of her young charges head off on a business trip, Rowan is left alone with three of the children, in a forbidding house which is upgraded with the latest in smart technology, so that everything in the home is controlled by an app named "Happy." As Rowan tries to bond with Maddie and Ellie,  the two middle daughters, she learns there were several previous nannies, none of whom stayed on the job very long. No one, including the children, Jack, the estate's friendly handyman, or the frosty and distant housekeeper, Jean, who acts in a hostile manner towards to Rowan from the start, will explain why those previous caregivers left the job so quickly.

Rowan gets caught up in a chain of frightening situations that seem designed to endanger the children, and perhaps drive her mad as well. As the odd and unexplainable events continue to occur, Rowan becomes convinced that someone or something is a serious threat to her and the children. The house seems to have a mind of its own, and the children may know more than they're telling about what's going on, especially Maddie and Ellie, who obliquely refer to "the ghosts," and other strange things, in conversations with Rowan. It seems the only person who can help Rowan get to the bottom of things is Jack, but is he part of what's going on? As her own grip on reality starts to slip, Rowan's not sure she can trust anyone.

Ruth Ware has often been compared to Agatha Christie, and her style is definitely influenced by Dame Agatha, but the novel is also a deftly plotted and original mashup of several genres and styles. The Turn of The Key is equal parts Christie, Henry James and modern techno thriller. In this suspenseful and compelling tale, modern technology is just as chilling as ghosts and things that go bump in the night. The story moves along at a breakneck pace, and as the novel reaches its conclusion, there are a couple of red herrings, off-kilter surprises and neat twists to the tale. Ware's well-drawn characters and suspenseful narrative will keep you turning the pages, but just remember that all narrators are not entirely reliable, and nothing is what it seems. The Turn of the Key is a great read for mystery and thriller fans as we enter the Halloween season.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Marc Platt's "Dis Time It's Poisonal"


Marc Platt is an artist you should be listening to if you’re a fan of first-rate rock and roll music. The talented former frontman for the well-regarded power poppers The Real Impossibles has been issuing some impressive discs recently, including the marvelous 2020 EP Beat On The Street, and the excellent full-length album Colors Of The Universe this past January. Now he’s back with another not to be missed record, Dis Time It’s Poisonal, which has just been released by Rum Bar Records. The album is a splendid collection of songs, a few of which have previously been released, and a number of other tunes which were newly recorded for this project. All of the tracks on the album mesh together perfectly to create a memorable listening experience.


Dis Time It’s Poisonal opens with the electric “Dig The New Scene,” which sets the stage for the rest of the album via its power pop meets alternative vibe, energized by Platt’s excellent guitar work and effervescent vocals. That’s followed by the terrific “Tryin To Survive,” which feels like a garage rock number mashed up with a Lou Reed tune. Those are just two of the high points on an album which is filled with outstanding songs. Platt moves effortlessly between the confessional tone of tracks like the jazzy “I’m Searchin” and the edgy “High Road” to the rough-hewn, bluesy feel of the hard-rocking “Woman of the World.”


Other highlights of this extraordinary record include a luminous, heartfelt cover of the Flamin’ Groovies classic “I Can’t Hide” and “She Tastes Like Candy,” co-written by Platt with the late John Ferriter of The Tearaways. “She Tastes Like Candy” is a song that’s gloriously infused with the DNA of 1960s pop in sound, style and production, which sounds like it time-warped to the present from an AM station's playlist in 1965. It's one of my favorites on the album. There’s also the acoustic leaning, folk-tinged “What’s A Man” and the Dylan-esque “Don’t Kick a Man When He’s Down” on which Platt sounds like he’s channeling a bit of Warren Zevon in the vocals. I also really dig the 1980s rock-flavored “Guilty As Charged,” and the modern rock mood of “Sweetest Sound” (originally recorded just after the breakup of The Real Impossibles) which has echoes of classic REM and U2.


Dis Time It’s Poisonal is an emotionally resonant, superbly crafted disc, and it’s clear from the results that Platt cares deeply about his music. He’s able to celebrate his rock and roll influences while creating brilliant songs that celebrate his unique and superlative talents as a singer, songwriter and producer. If you like rock, folk, punk and power pop, then you need to check out this wonderful record. Dis Time It’s Poisonal is available from Rum Bar Records, https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com, and you can order the album and listen to song samples by following this direct link to the page for Dis Time It’s Poisonal: https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/dis-time-its-poisonal-the-nice-price. Here's a link to the video for the first single from the album, “I Can’t Hide.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JXP_06b02k.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The B Movie "Creatures" of Sam Katzman

Sam Katzman was one of the most prolific (and successful) producers in Hollywood. He sheperded hundreds of films into production and onto movie screens from the 1930s thru the 1970s. Katzman produced westerns, comedies, thrillers and rock and roll musicals. His "B" movies often filled out the bottom half of double bills, but he also produced serials, action movies and even a pair of Elvis Presley films. Like Roger Corman, his movies were often made on a minuscule budget, but were always very profitable for their studios. Katzman is probably best remembered by fans of classic science-fiction cinema for producing a pair of early films by special effects master Ray Harryhausen, It Came From Beneath The Sea and Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers.

Some of Katzman's other sci-fi and horror movies aren't quite as revered as those two Harryhausen epics, but they're much beloved by devotees of old school sci-fi, horror and fantasy. Theses other films, like The Night The World Exploded, may not be classics, but they're a whole lot of fun. Arrow Video has just released Cold War Creatures: Four Films By Sam Katzman, a wonderful limited edition box set of four of Katzman's creature features. The movies included in the set are Creature with the Atom Brain, The Werewolf, Zombies of Mora Tau, and The Giant Claw. Older fans will probably recognize these titles, and if you didn't see them on the big screen, you probably caught them, as I did, on shows like Chiller Theatre or Creature Features, which featured showings of horror, science-fiction and fantasy films on local stations in the pre-cable, pre-streaming days. Here's a brief synopsis of each of the four films featured in Cold War Creatures: Four Films By Sam Katzman:

1. Creature with the Atom Brain (1955) – A gangster unleashes remote-controlled corpses, aka atomic age zombies, as instruments of revenge upon the men who got him deported. There are some effectively scary moments in this gangster flick mashed up with a mad scientist thriller, directed by Edward L. Cahn. Note for rock and roll fans; this is the film upon which psychedelic rocker Roky Erickson (of The 13th Floor Elevators) based his same named song. Here's a look at the trailer for the movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L82jN6Z6qUE.

2. The Werewolf (1956) – This science-fiction infused variation on werewolf tales features an amnesiac man who transforms into a monster and terrorizes a small town. But how did he become a werewolf, and can he be captured before he wreaks more havoc? This offbeat and eerie film is well-directed by Fred F. Sears, and features a couple of genuine scares. Here's the trailer for the movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZI4pMEpCkAI.

3. Zombies of Mora Tau (1957) – This horror tale features treasure hunters who get more than they bargained for when they run afoul of the walking dead while searching for diamonds on a sunken ship. This is kind of a film noir (complete with a femme fatale) cross-wired with a zombie flick. Edward L. Cahn is back behind the camera for this one. Here's the trailer for this underwater (?) zombie thriller: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3kpfVH1bT8.

4. The Giant Claw (1957) – This vintage monster movie is famous (or is that infamous?) for featuring one of the silliest looking monsters ever put on film, in the story of a giant bird terrorizing the world. You have to see this one to believe it. It's a fairly standard and decently made 1950s monster film, until the not so terrifying title menace shows up. Fred F. Sears returns to direct this one. Here's the trailer for the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOj0nXpRqX8.

There are a lot of familiar faces among the casts in these films, including Allison Hayes (who starred as the title "creature" in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) in Zombies of Mora Tau, Don Megowan in The Werewolf, and Jeff Morrow (This Island Earth) and Mara Corday (Tarantula) in The Giant ClawI have an unabashed love for these type of movies, and the ones selected for this set are prime examples of the kind of films Hollywood doesn't make anymore. No one is ever going to call these movies A-list classics, but they're very entertaining, and in the case of The Werewolf, you might just discover a well-crafted and under-appreciated B-movie gem. As a big fan of Allison Hayes, I also like Zombies of Mora Tau quite a bit, but Creature with the Atom Brain and The Giant Claw are also enjoyable.

All four of the films in this set look great, and the hi-definition remasters are well done. This beautifully put together collection is jam packed with extras, including an introduction for each film by noted author and critic Kim Newman, audio commentaries from various experts, featurettes on the themes and subtexts of Katzman's movies, and a biography/presentation on Katzman's career by writer Stephen R. Bissette. Also included are lobby card reproductions, two double-sided posters, and two booklets which include articles and analysis on each of the films, as well as a wealth of photos. This lovingly crafted set is a wonderful tribute to the movies of Sam Katzman, and it's truly a gift for "Monster Kids" and classic B movie fans everywhere. Here's a video from Arrow Video that shows you the lavish extras included in the set: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBVTPZcuizg.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Retro TV Movie: Satan's Triangle

Regular readers of this blog have probably noted my fondness for the eerie made for TV movies of the 1970s, such as The Night Stalker, Gargoyles and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. Some of these films are well-made chillers which are now regarded as classics, while others fall into the categories of guilty pleasures, such as the enjoyably off-kilter The Horror at 37,000 Feet and Satan's School For Girls. I recently came across another entry in the latter category when I rediscovered Satan's Triangle, which originally aired on ABC in 1975. This eerie chiller is set in the Bermuda Triangle, that legendary area in the North Atlantic where a number of ships and planes have reportedly disappeared without a trace over the years. The mysterious "Devil's Triangle" was the subject of a lot of books and TV shows in the 1970s, including In Search Of..., hosted by Leonard Nimoy.

The film opens with a rescue chopper sent out to answer an SOS from a small craft stranded at sea in the area known as the Bermuda Triangle. When the chopper arrives at the scene, co-pilot Lt. Haig is lowered to the craft via winch. What he finds there are three dead bodies and a frightened woman named Eva. When an attempt to pull up Haig and Eva to the chopper fails because the line snaps, weather conditions and low fuel require the pilot to return to base to refuel. Lt. Haig and Eva are left on the ship, and she tells Haig the story of how everyone on the vessel died, attributing their mysterious and violent deaths to supernatural causes.

Eva says that all of the odd events began when their schooner picked up a priest named Father Martin, who apparently survived a disaster at sea. Several men, including Eva's husband Hal, die mysteriously after he comes aboard, leaving Eva as the lone survivor. A skeptical Haig tells Eva he can explain all of these deaths, including Hal, who seems to be floating in mid-air, and Martin, who's hanging from the ship's mast, as the result of accidents and natural circumstances. Eva remains unconvinced, but the two grow closer as they wait for the rescue chopper to pick them up.

(Take note; spoilers ahead) Haig and Eva are eventually transferred to the returning helicopter from a rescue vessel which has arrived in the area. After the chopper takes off. the rescue ship radios the pilot and says that it's not a man that's hanging from the mast, as reported by Haig, but a woman! He turns to Eva, who laughs maniacally and transforms into the priest, then shoves the surprised Haig out the door into the ocean. The devil (?!) then goes after the pilot, threatening to take his soul, but he crashes the copter into the ocean. The last shot of the film is of Haig, who's now floating in the sea, boasting an evil grin, and waving at the approaching rescue ship.

The cast is chock full of familiar faces. Doug McClure, a familiar face to both TV and cinema audiences of the 1960s and 70s, who was featured in sci-fi movies such as The Land That Time Forgot and At The Earth's Core, stars as Haig. Movie legend Kim Novak, of Vertigo and Picnic fame, portrays Eva. The supporting cast includes Alejandro Rey of The Flying Nun, Jim Davis from Dallas and Michael Conrad of Hill Street Blues. The film was helmed by Sutton Roley, a veteran of movies and television who directed a ton of TV movies and series, including episodes of Hawaii Five-O, Kojak and Starsky and Hutch. The teleplay is by William Read Woodfield, who co-wrote and produced many episodes of the original Mission: Impossible TV series, and was also well-known as a photographer who shot pictures of stars like Marilyn Monroe.

Satan's Triangle is enjoyably goofy, spooky fun. This is one of those TV movies that, after its initial airing on ABC, showed up constantly throughout the 1970s and early 1980s on local stations as part of their afternoon movie showcases. Remember The 4:30 Movie in the New York area? It's not a classic like Trilogy of Terror or The Night Stalker, but if you dig the 1970s made for TV chiller genre, you'll have a good time watching this one. The film is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime. And remember, don't pick up any strange survivors if you're in Satan's Triangle!

Friday, August 27, 2021

A Power Pop Rescue From Nick Piunti!

Looking for a couple of excellent songs to liven up your summer? Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men have just the explosion of power pop energy you need to brighten your day in these difficult times. When I reviewed their outstanding album, Downtime, for the music and arts website CultureSonar back in 2020, I mentioned that Nick and his band might just be "power pop's best kept secret." A long-time fixture on the Detroit rock and roll scene, Nick's been making great music for years now, and Downtime, as well as some of Nick's earlier records, including 13 In My Head, and Trust Your Instincts, are well worth your time and attention. Hot on the heels of his knockout version of "Hang On To Your Ego" for the recently released album JEM Records Celebrates Brian Wilson, Nick and his band have issued not one, but two terrific new singles.

"Heart Inside Your Head" is a power pop-tastic number that combines all the key elements of Nick's music; "can't get it out of your head once it's there" hooks, catchy lyrics, and the joy-infused musical chemistry between Nick and The Complicated Men, aka Kevin Darnall on keyboards, Jeff Happ on bass Ron Vesko on drums, and Geoff Michael on synths. Nick's terrific vocals and guitar top it all off to achieve the perfect power pop confection. Don't believe me? Just give the tune ( which was chosen as a Coolest Song In The World on Little Steven's Sirius XM radio show, Underground Garage) a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cmhkgay_Ee8.


The band's other new single is "One of the Boyz," a sparkling mixture of power pop and modern rock styles in a tale about a guy who doesn't appreciate the girl in his life, and treats her like "one of the boyz." The song features delightful lyrics that will make you smile (I dig "When you get strong and you move on, there'll be no looking over your cold shoulder...") and an effervescent mix highlighted by Piunti's excellent guitar work. It's another great tune that should absolutely be played loud with the car windows down as you sing along. Check 
"One of the Boyz," out here: https://nickpiuntimusic.bandcamp.com/track/one-of-the-boyz. Both of these singles are fantastic, and should immediately be added to your power pop playlist. You can find music by Nick Piunti and The Complicated Men at bandcamp: https://nickpiuntimusic.bandcamp.com, and discover more about the band at: https://www.nickpiunti.com. Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men's new singles are just the power pop rescue you need at the end of this long, hot summer!