Sunday, June 3, 2018

Countess Dracula

I'm thrilled to be contributing to Barry_Cinematic and Realweegeemidget's Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon. It's an honor to be considered worthy for inclusion in the blogathon, and by "considered" I really mean "allowed after embarrassingly pleading and wringing my hands in desperation to be included".

In typical Stabford fashion, I'm cramming my review in at the last minute in spite of nearly three months lead-time because I've been terribly busy reliving my past by being Goth-As-All-Get-Out. Instead of buckling down and writing my review, I've been listening to frightful musics lately, and it feels pretty good to feel this bad.

Thanks to Youtube's algorithms, this disquieting record was introduced to me. According to The Quietus, Ksiezyc (which translates to Moon in Polish) contains a 'magick that imbued their mix of ancient slavic folk music and 20th century minimalism with a melancholy ambience', and it's pretty darn sweet.

I also recently did my morning T25 exercise routine to this album by early-70s freak-folk outfit Comus, again thanks to Youtube's magickal algorithms. Described as "notable for its unique blend of progressive rock, folk, psychedelia, and elements of paganism and the macabre", it's perfect for 25 minutes of sweating to T25 Speed 2.0, since it's akin to the sound of being chased through a skeletal, autumnal landscape by torch wielding villagers. The 70s certainly were freaked out.

However, it's been difficult to listen to any music lately that isn't "The Wheels On The Bus" because the grandchildren have been shrieking to watch Sarah And Duck. They keep shouting, and I quote, 'I DON'T LIKE THIS MUSIC PAHPAH, IT'S DEGENERATE ART!', and I don't need four diapered fascists pointing their fingers at me.

Anyway, Sarah And Duck is an animated cartoon for children, and I've seen every episode 100 times but couldn't tell you what happens in any of them. From what I gather, Sarah is a human child who has adventures with her duck sidekick named Duck, and it's gentle and quiet and rather surreal, with plotlines that often involve baked goods, talking planets, lemons, and shallots. Unfortunately, I fall asleep in my chair watching this program, and it's infuriating because I'm no Martin Crane.

What does this have to do with Countess Dracula? Nothing really. Anyway, on to the review.

To choose a film for the blogathon, I had to Google "Worst Hammer film", and honestly, I wasn't exactly successful. The Hammer studio churned out quite a bit of quality product, and even its less successful films wouldn't exactly fit onto a Worst Films Of All Time list. So I picked the worst reviewed film I could find, and here we are.

The film opens as a peasant gets runs over by the mysteriously-veiled Countess's horsedrawn carriage. Another peasant screams "Devil woman!", at the carriage, and I can certainly relate to that and this seems like a pretty solid way to begin just about any film. At the reading of a will, the Countess is annoyed that her daughter gets half of her husband's estate. The daughter is en route to the Countess's castle, much to the chagrin of the Countess.

It's a good a time as any for the countess to take a bath because it's only been about 30 seconds into the film, and the Countess scalds a wench who couldn't manage to cool her bath, then makes the wench peel a peach. The wench is cut by the knife, and the Countess is splashed by the wench's blood. Through some sort of sorcery, the blood makes the Countess appear decades younger. That sounds like an awful lot of work, when everyone knows all one has to do is keep a portrait of themselves in an attic that ages for them, and save themselves the hassle of gory cleanup. Easy-peasy.

Since baths aren't much to keep the plot moving along, the wench goes missing and so does the Countess's undergarments, and the Captain who has been giving the Countess the old humpty-dumpty tells the wench's hysterical mother to check the whorehouse, causing everyone much consternation.

A bunch of movie happens. At the 26-minute mark, the Countess assumes the identity of her own daughter, even though her daughter is on the way. I had to watch this part three times to get it, because I kept pulling a Martin Crane and fell asleep. Meanwhile, the daughter is kidnapped, and held captive in a filthy hovel. I'm not sure why.

The Captain and some old wizard dude fall asleep playing chess, which is where I fell asleep again. The Countess tries to go all Harlequin Romance Novel with a younger man, but the youth-enhancing effects of virgin blood wears off, turning the Countess into an even uglier, older hag. Suddenly, there's a dance routine in lieu of plot. After a tarot card reading, the Countess stabs one of the  dancing girls in the neck with a large hair pin, so I guess the dancing really did have something to do with it. After regaining her youth, The Countess gets a literal roll in the hay. We're only 40 minutes into this film, and I've fallen asleep at least 3 times, but I was too drowsy to keep track.

The daughter weakly tries to escape her kidnapper, and gets her ankle kissed through the wall of the shack she's held in, because why the heck not. Children discover a nude body. The Countess gets uglier every time the virgin blood rejuvenation wears off.

The Countess has a nightmare as winds and werewolves howl outside her window. Another bellydancer stretches for time. The Countess wanders around her bedchambers shrieking and wailing. I keep falling asleep. My chair is not comfortable.

After applying the blood of a prostitute with an enormous puff to her face, the rejuvenation fails, causing the Countess much distress. The Captain goes to town and purchases a goat and gets an ugly virgin for free. The daughter escapes her captive, and abruptly falls in a creek. Someone finds piles of nude, bloodless corpses hidden behind barrels. The film ends, and I get a terrible crick in my neck.

Featuring extravagant head wear, high collars, plunging necklines, labyrinthine sets, facial warts, a dead protstitute in a closet, and a couple of goats, Countess Dracula resembles a period romance that just happens to have hints of horror, which would disappoint viewers looking for some classic Hammer vampire action. Containing lots of dialogue, some dancing, minuscule amounts of horror, and zero Draculas of any variety, someone at the very end of the film says the phrase Countess Dracula, which is the only time Draculas are acknowledged at all, as far as I can recall. Still, it's atmospheric, but that doesn't quite make up for the slow moving plot.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Phantom Cemetery

He seems like a nice enough fellow. He just happens to look a little like The Phantom Stranger, except not nearly as cool. Who, you ask? Just hold your horses, we'll get to that.

Phantom Stranger is one of my very favorite comic book characters who never seem to ever really do anything (See also the original Mr. Terrific, the original Red Tornado). Spooky and omnipotent, PS lurks in the upper corner of his own comic books, narrating the goings-on, but rarely getting his gloves dirty.

When worlds are threatened, he spontaneously shows up, spouts some heavy mumbo-jumbo, and splits. It's pretty cool, but frustrating. 

Amazon is being haunted by a whole slew of speculative documentaries with alluring titles such as Medieval Paranormal Activity, The Legend Of Borley Church, Paranormal Confessions, and Castle Of Lost Souls, and they all seem to be hosted by this guy who looks like Phantom Stranger, paranormal investigator Chris Halton.

See what I mean?

Castle Of Lost Souls has the intriguing synopsis of an alleged haunting in Saint Briavels Castle, built around 1075, which apparently has dark corridors and dank dungeons where all sorts of tortures, hangings, decapitations, and other horrors have occurred. In spite of watching a majority of the documentary, I don't recall seeing any of corridors, dungeons, or tortures. Paranormal Confessions features a synopsis surrounding a double axe murder at an ancient water mill in the year 1698, where the victims were hog tied to a beam and then butchered. Again, no recollection of seeing any of that.

Anyway, Chris Halton goes to all these supposedly haunted sites, talks a lot, and very little happens, then I fall asleep, slumped over in my chair, usually with a belly full of macaroni and cheese.

So back to the doc, The Phantom Cemetery features Mr. Halton investigating the infamous Bachelor's Grove Cemetery in Chicago, which is said to be haunted by a lady in white. He walks around in the woods, talking about various feelings and impressions he receives. At one point he complains about a negative smell. (Side note: I watch these programs with subtitles, and the subtitle said, "Crossed their pants" which seems to allude to the smells, and that seems fine to me). After many scenes of walking through a forest, he looks at an algae covered swamp, said that the swamp is dead, and a bullfrog jumps out of the water. In spite of the sudden appearance of the frog, I fell asleep.

Chris Halton seems genuinely interested in the history of each location, and in spite of a similar appearance to a certain spectral comic book character, seems like an affable guy. His delivery is profoundly dry, which could prompt a late-night audience with a full belly in a comfy chair to unexpectedly nod off.

Sorry, can't seem to locate trailers for these documentaries, but here's a little something.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Love And Saucers

A VHS enthusiast creates explicit paintings of his multi-decade romance with an extraterrestrial in this disturbing documentary.

Between clips of the classic horror films Son Of Frankenstein and the Uninvited, rather alarming, crudely rendered oil paintings of alien encounters are shown which explores the alleged, unconventional relationship between the painter and a sturdy female extraterrestrial. Some of the highlights include a painting of a figure in the woods surrounded by classic aliens wearing blue jumpsuits, another painting of a young boy looking through the foundation of a house to the legs of aliens wearing blue jumpsuits lurking outside, and one of a woman inserting a rod into the artist's nose.

Difficult to watch but nearly impossible to turn away from, Love And Saucers explores a disquieting viewpoint of a UFO enthusiast subset, one which claims ongoing extraterrestrial contact and arguably "beneficial" inter-species physical relationships, where each encounter grows more outlandish and elaborate with each rendering. Fans of outsider art and Forteana may enjoy the documentary, others will find it off-putting. 

Speaking of Forteana and off-putting subject matter, I said a bunch of stuff over at Cultured Vultures about the speculative documentary Discovering Bigfoot, where I made several jokes about apples and Bigfoot excrement. Check it out if you're into that sort of thing.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Gamma People

A car uncouples from a train, and curiously overalled children divert it to an isolated, mountainous country named Gudavia, a land where no trains ever come. The only two passengers on the train car, a boorish American and a stuffy Brit, are apprehended and thrown into a dungeon-like prison for being spies. Meanwhile, scientists in satin jumpsuits armed with an enormous laser gun scientifically impregnate human subjects dressed in odd military garb with electricity, turning them into idiots.

The two men are abruptly released, but they cannot leave the country because Gudavia's sole automobile is being used for official Gudavian business out of the country, which sounds fine. The Brit attempts to send a telegram, but it can't be sent because telegrams are only sent on special occasions. A young girl plays the piano as an oddly Aryan young man scowls.

Suddenly, there is a hubbub in the streets, and an old dude says, "In the end, the murdering will cease", because of course he does, and a guy with an extravagant hat chalks it all up to hysteria. In spite of the hubbub, the hysteria, and the murdering, the Brit wonders aloud about identity of his milliner. Somnambulant figures sneak up on the Brit, and they scatter after someone blows a whistle.

The pair meets up with a scientist with a double identity. This mysterious scientist pulled a disappearing act some time ago due to some sort of political thing (hint-hint, nudge-nudge), and he says some stuff about gamma rays. They then meet a Frau, who has children making monster masks for an upcoming festival, and there's almost nothing sinister about that at all.

Some stuff happens. The Brit chases a boy and falls in some water, the zombie guys throw rocks, a mule makes an appearance, and several people fall off a cliff.

The carnival that is certainly not a special occasion and that was forbidden to happen happens, and it's pretty freaked out, which means it's pretty cool, and the festival-goers wear giant monster heads, which I'm always a big fan of. Don't worry, since it's not too bad it only lasts a couple of minutes.

The Gamma People is a comic thriller, and it isn't particularly comic or thrilling.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Miami Connection

Scattered around my home are many small journals. They're on shelves, stacked on end tables, and they fill various drawers and cabinets. Within them are my notes on the bad films I watch late at night, scribbled in the dark. They're mostly illegible, written in a shorthand I often struggle later to decipher. I try my best to finish the reviews, but sometimes one will slip by me. This is one of those reviews.

In a city where everyone seems to know martial arts, dudes sit around and wait for a nighttime delivery. Ninjas approach. Surprise! They're delivering drugs, and it's not very surprising. Suddenly, a henchman gets a throwing star stuck in his neck as a repetitive synth soundtrack plays. Disposable extras appear on motorcycles, resulting in a terrible gun battle and sword fight. A band named Dragon Sound consisting almost entirely of John Oates lookalikes performs shirtless with Linn drum.

A classroom of students at a community college begins programming CPUs as big as a microwave oven, and meanwhile, an unconvincing rumble in the school's parking lot is averted through terrible dialogue. A shouting match at a nightclub ends abruptly. Back at the ninja hideout, ninjas practice ninja stuff, then everyone has lunch. Dragon Sound performs another song with pyrotechnics about ninjas in a style reminiscent of Pat Benatar, which should annoy Pat Benatar.

Carloads of men yell at one another and wave sticks around. Shirtless guys in a room decorated by an inexplicable Leif Garrett poster argue over a letter. Then everyone goes to the beach, gets pelted by shoes, and unappetizingly make out. Back at the community college, people spar in slo-mo. After someone gets their nose pinched by toes, everyone enjoys a Pepsi.

Some guys try to dine-and-dash, and then revealing short shorts and camera shadows make an appearance. After breakfast and more mail, a boom mic appears. Then ninjas run across a bridge.

In the rock'em-sock'em world of Miami Connection, Florida seems soley populated by 40 or 50 male characters and one woman, and they're all martial artists who practice an amusing form of martial arts that always defeats someone with a weapon. Featuring terrible acting, a terrible script, terrible music, terrible cinematography, terrible lighting, and terrible fight choreography, Miami Connection is pretty terrible, and it appears to be made up almost entirely of montage.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Attack Of The Mushroom People

Currently, I'm on hour 3 of listening to La Monte Young's 5-hour long improvised solo piano work The Well-Tuned Piano.

What does that have to do with Attack Of The Mushroom People? Nothing, really.

Just thought I'd throw that out there. Cut to film.

A man is locked away in a psychiatric ward, and he is our narrator, which isn't a good sign. A young woman sings aboard a boat backed by green screen, then the boat hits some rough seas, and then it cuts to smooth sailing. After some turbulent, Gilligan's Island-like ocean footage, people seem to manage playing cards below deck in spite of ship-sinkingly dangerous waves. Piloting the ship is a fellow wearing sunglasses. A female says she's seasick, which prompts someone to decide that's a good enough reason to turn back despite the obvious typhoon.

A giant steamer heads directly toward the tiny ship. Someone weakly waves to try to stop the inevitable collision, but alas, it was just a dream. Finally, lost and adrift without a mast, the castaways discover land. Leaving their boat, they all bellyflop into the beach, as one does when one reaches the shore of a deserted island.

After eating a suspect berry and finding a tiny pool of water, they run slowly along the foggy beach and discover a shipwreck that's just crawling with fungus, which they promptly get all over them. Some half-hearted scientific inquiry follows, where radioactivity is briefly discussed. A giant mushroom in a box is discovered. Sunglass guy goes below and sneakily eats Spam.

After tons of movie, a mushroom person finally appears, shuffling slowly down the hallway toward them. Cut to next morning, and they all claim it was a ghost. Then everyone bickers.

More movie happens, with zero mushroom people or attacks by them. The castaways argue over canned goods.

Mushrooms grow at great speed with dramatic music accompaniment. After a long walk in the rain, someone is talked into eating mushrooms, then showgirls do flips. It's fairly psychedelic, and it's a welcome change of scenery from jungle foliage and button mushrooms. Finally, someone is chased by mushrooms. It's not very interesting.

The mushrooms attack, and it's exactly what you would expect; lots of shuffling and an over-abundance of dusty spores. Someone loses an arm. A few of the mushroom people look like broccoli. The victims take on an appearance of half-human mushroom hybrids. I'm suddenly hungry for stir-fry, or maybe a nice pasta.

A vegetarian chicken substitute would work fine in that recipe, JSYK.

Attack Of The Mushroom People is pretty boring until last last few minutes of the film. Mushroom enthusiasts would be wise to skip right to the bonkers ending.

Friday, March 30, 2018

How To Build A Time Machine

Something alarming happened to me recently. While perusing Wikipedia, as I often do, I stumbled upon an entry for a philosophy called hauntology, and I couldn't be more upset about it. I was under the assumption that I alone was "haunted by the nostalgia of lost futures", and just for once I'd like to be seen as the visionary that I am, and not some Johnny-Come-Lately to a philosophy coined by Jacques Derrida in 1993. Don't you just hate it when that happens?

Here I am, sitting here minding my own business listening to the cheesy, futuristic lounge of Frank Comstock and His Orchestra's "Music From Outer Space", with a tab open to an online emulator for the Roland TR-808 drum machine that I will never use, and watching a documentary about men who are trying to build time machines, and who even does all that? Apparently, not just me, or else these things wouldn't exist. Or would they?

I suppose there are people out there who are "exploring ideas related to temporal disjunction, retrofuturism, cultural memory, and esoteric cultural references from the past", and those people need to get out of my scene and its rich, ironic aesthetic. This town ain't big enough for the both of us.

Again, here I am, trying to be as original as all get-out, and there are others out there that are into "vintage analog synthesisers, library music, old science-fiction and pulp horror programs (including the soundtracks of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop), musique concrète and found sounds, dub and English psychedelia, and 1970s public informational films.", and why are those people copying everything I do? Get out of my scene, you bunch of poseurs.

Here I sit, heartbroken for the lack of hovering, anti-gravity vehicles because you all insist on cars, and lo and behold, someone has already pined over it.

This was supposed to be the future, and it sucks.

Thanks for nothing.

Anyway, How To Build a Time Machine is an interesting documentary about two men who created their own time machines. One guy is a film professional who worked on Pee Wee's Playhouse, and built a hand tooled marble, brass, and mahogany replica of the original machine from the 1960 film The Time Machine directed by George Pal. The other subject of the documentary is a scientist who is attempting to create an actual, working time machine utilizing a ring of lasers that drags a neutron around a circle of light. Throughout the film, explanations of film techniques including stop motion, time lapse, and montage, and discussions of the theory of relativity and black holes are integrated into footage of the building of each machine.

An astonishing moment occurs in the film when the film-maker visits a guy who owns the original time machine prop from the film, and casually shows the collector has the original metal skeleton of the King Kong puppet, and the costume from the 1940s serial The Adventures of Captain Marvel, which caused me to gasp in amazement.

Don't even get me started on how I feel about the new Shazam film, slated for release in 2019, which is in the future. That's a discussion for another day, which will also be in the future.

Anyway, How to Build A Time Machine is a fascinating look at obsession, regret, and the struggle with imperfection.

*All the quotes are attributed to the original wikipedia article on hauntology, found at this link if you're interested, but seriously, get out of my scene.