Saturday, October 17, 2009

Scott gets a double dose of Spanish Vampires!

“Buenas noches, senor Renfield.”

In the early days of sound or “talkies”, Hollywood studios would sometimes produce alternate foreign language versions of their films. Shooting at night with identical scripts, these alternate versions would be filmed simultaneously with the regular versions utilizing the same sets. Such is the case with the 1931 Spanish language version of DRACULA.

The Spanish version of DRACULA will now and forever be compared to the Lugosi version. When it comes to DRACULA, Lugosi is the man. The role is his. I love Christopher Lee’s interpretation of the character, but even he wore the same ring as Lugosi in tribute to his performance. So poor Carlos Villarias as Count Dracula has some big shoes to fill. I think he does an admiral job considering. While I find his performance a little bug eyed, it’s been growing on me over the years. And Pablo Alvartz Rubio gives his all in the role of Renfield. But the Spanish version’s real strength lies is atmosphere. From a technical standpoint, the Spanish version of DRACULA is vastly superior to the Lugosi version. This is probably due to the fact that the Spanish crew would look at the dailies of the English version then attempt to top it by coming up with better camera angles and lighting. This gives the film a wonderful gothic look. The Spanish version is also a little more risqué when it comes to the ladies wardrobe. Necklines tend to plunge a little deeper.

The Spanish version of DRACULA runs 104 minutes in length, nearly a half hour longer than the Lugosi version! It stars Carlos Villarias, Lupita Tovar, Pablo Alvarez and Eduardo Arozamena. It was directed by George Melford, who never understood or spoke Spanish!

Sadly, universal has kind of fumbled the ball when it comes to this movie. It has been released on DVD three times, always with the Lugosi version. First with the Classic Monster Collection DVD in 1999, then with the Legacy Collection DVD in 2004 and finally the 75th Anniversary Edition DVD set in 2006. The 1999 version gets the Spanish version right. The disc offers straight English subtitles. The subsequent releases only offer the film via closed caption subtitles. That means you have to sit through descriptions like “door closing”, “footsteps”, ECT. The 2004 edition, however, offers more bonus films that include DRACULA’S DAUGHTER, SON OF DRACULA and HOUSE OF DRACULA. The 2006 edition offers a better print of the Lugosi version. I’ve personally have stuck with the 1999 version. Perhaps if these films ever hit blu-ray, they will get this right! Overall, the Spanish DRACULA looks great on DVD with the exception of a “lost” reel that was discovered in Cuba of all places! This reel encompasses Renfield’s seduction by Dracula’s brides through Dracula’s first arrival in England.

Next up I screened 1957’s EL VAMPIRO (THE VAMPIRE). Made in Mexico, this is the perfect film to follow the Spanish DRACULA, perhaps even more so than the Lugosi’s DRACULA. Not only because of the language but for just the pure gothic atmosphere.

Produced by Abel Salazar, who also plays the character of Dr. Enrique, this film was an attempt to mimic the success that Universal studios had with its Monster cycle of the 1930’s. Salazar succeeded and was able to bankroll his own studio.

The pull no punches music score of Gustavo C. Carrion is also a huge asset to the production. He’s not afraid to “hit you over the head” with some music cues. I found his score refreshing. Too many composers nowadays tend to hide in the sound mix. I like my films scores front and center.

While a little weak in story structure, EL VAMPIRO is still a blast to watch. The film is like a bridge between Universal and Hammer horror. It’s also reportedly the first film in which a vampire bares his fangs but I find that hard to believe.

EL VAMPIRO features Abel Salazar, Aridne Welter, Carmen Montejo (as the creepy but memorable Eloisa) and German Robles as Count Karol de Lavud. The DVD from Casa Negra also features the films sequel EL ATAUD DEL VAMPIRO (THE VAMPIRE’S COFFIN). Both films look great with EL VAMPIRO showing a bit of film damage early on. The 2 disc affair is housed nicely and each film is presented full frame 1:33. While this is not the full aspect ratio of the films, it doesn’t hinder the enjoyment of these films severely. The DVD package does come with some nice extras, so overall it’s a nice package.

This is a double feature that I highly recommend! And remember, watch our for those Spanish eyes!

Thursday, October 08, 2009


This time out a triple feature! It’s pretty interesting how this came about. Originally, I was going to screen two Joe Dante Films, GREMLINS and THE HOWLING. But while watching GREMLINS I realized that it just wasn’t much of a horror film. I had been dying to watch my new blu ray of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, so I decided on a werewolf double feature instead. Then Gary came up with the idea of throwing WOLFEN into the mix. Presto! Instant triple feature! The coolest thing is that until I started doing research, I didn’t realize that all three of these films had been released in 1981!

I had never seen THE HOWLING from beginning to end until this recent screening. I must say that I was a little disappointed by this film. The mix of horror and humor, for the most part, doesn’t work. Also, I love old school effects but sadly this movie has just not aged well. The werewolf transformations are just not very convincing here. And one moment has a very obvious piece of cartoon animation that the audience is not supposed to know IS cartoon animation! This is also kind of a slow moving movie that doesn’t really pick up until the third act. A case of too little too late.

The film has an impressive cast that includes Dee Wallace-Stone, Patrick Macnee, Kevin McCarthy, John Carradine, Silm Pickens and Dick Miller. The DVD I viewed had the option to view either in full screen of wide screen on the same side. This means that the bit rate is lowered which means that THE HOWLING is a little weak in the transfer department but watch able. The 5.1 sound mix is pretty good, however, giving some sonic boost to all those howls.

A few years back I saw this films sequel HOWLING II-YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF. Christopher Lee is in that film but avoid it! It’s horrible!

Next, I screened the vastly superior AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. This is a great film that blends horror and comedy brilliantly. And that’s no easy feat as THE HOWLING proves. The transformation scene in this film is still impressive today. I was so happy to discover that this film has held up so well after all these years!

The well cast film features David Naughton, Jenny Agutter and Griffen Dunne. The supporting British cast is terrific. This is a great film to break out for the
Halloween season.

Newly re-released on DVD and Blu Ray, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON looks good and sounds even better! The blu ray also comes with a bunch of extras that makes picking up this movie on blu a no brainier!

Finally, I took a look at WOLFEN. I hadn’t seen this film in quite some time. This is really kind of an odd film. I liked the whole gritty detective angle in this story but the horror elements just didn’t work for me. And, for the record, this in NOT a werewolf movie. The WOLFEN of the title refers to a pack of super smart wolves that “sit above man on the food chain.” Yeah right. I personally could have lived without all the Indian mumbo jumbo that takes place here. It’s too bad because there is a good movie in there somewhere!

WOLFEN has a good cast that includes Albert Finney, Gregory Hines, Tom Noonan and Edward James Olmos. The DVD is anamorphic and the sound is Dolby digital 2.0 mono. I noticed that this title also comes in a DVD 4 pack that also contains the movies COMA, BAD MOON and Abel Ferrara’s version of BODY SNATCHERS. Not a bad way to go considering that the set only costs about 12 bucks!

Well I can’t really get behind this triple feature. I recommend that you watch AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and then throw on THE WOLF MAN instead for a chaser!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Scott Watches TALES FROM THE CRYPT and TALES OF TERROR back to back!

While doing some shopping at a local wal-mart, I hit the video section and began to sift through the five dollar bin. Much to my surprise, I came across the Amicus production of TALES FROM THE CRYPT from 1972. The irony was not lost on me as I had mentioned this film in my last post. I had to change my plans and make this film part of my next double feature!

I had seen this film before. The movie had been given to me as a gift by my pal Val back in the days of VHS. I remember being surprised at how good the film actually was. But tastes change and I wondered if the film would hold up after all these years.

I’m happy to say that this film holds up remarkably well! I thought that overall this was a better film than THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. TALES FROM THE CRYPT is helmed by director Freddie Francis who also directed THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, NIGHTMARE and DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE for Hammer films. He also directed THE SKULL for Amicus. I think that TALES FROM THE CRYPT is his best overall film.

The film begins with five strangers who find themselves in a cavernous room with a mysterious crypt keeper, played by Sir Ralph Richardson. One by one, he reveals their destinies. Also in the cast are Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Ian Hendry, Patrick Magee (fresh from his appearance in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.) and Nigel Patrick.

TALES FROM THE CRYPT looks fine on the region 1 DVD and is a vast improvement from what I remember of my VHS copy. The print looks to be in decent shape and is enhanced for widescreen televisions. Also included with the DVD is the films follow up THE VAULT OF HORROR. A perfect double feature you say? Nonsense! Gary would not stand for it! We here at Reel Cinema like to do things the hard way! So I followed this film with a screening of…

TALES OF TERROR. I was trying to rack my brain on what I could do for a double feature. Being that THE VAULT OF HORROR was out, I was thinking that CREEPSHOW 2 might be a good candidate. I hadn’t seen that film in years and even though it’s no way near as good a film as the original CREEPSHOW, it seemed like a good match. But my heart was just not into it. Then a chance visit to my local Movie stop provided me with a better answer. Sitting on a shelf marked down to $1.99, Roger Corman’s TALES OF TERROR!

I had never seen TALES OF TERROR before, so I was looking forward to it. I was not disappointed. The film is based on four Edgar Allan Poe tales adapted into three tales for the film by Richard Matheson, one of my favorite writers. Each sequence is introduced by Vincent Price who also appears in all three tales. The film also stars Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone. It was released in 1962.

Given that TALES OF TERROR was released on DVD in 2000, I was surprised as how good the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is! While I picked up the solo version DVD, this film was later released on DVD with another Vincent Price flick TWICE TOLD TALES from 1963

Another fun night of movie viewing!!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Scott takes in a double feature of CREEPSHOW and THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD!

I can’t think of a more appropriate film to kick off our month long tribute to horror films then CREEPSHOW. I was 14 when CREEPSHOW first crept into theatres in 1982. I didn’t realize it at the time but this film was a perfect transition for someone whose primary horror film diet had been Universal Horror films with the occasional Hammer horror flick thrown in. Up to that point in 1982 the only other George Romero film I had seen was NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. That film got under my adolescent skin like few others. So going to see a film directed by Romero and penned by Stephen King was a brave move for a teenage kid in 1982. I also must admit that the comic book angle the film employs was very appealing to me. It became one of my favorite films and I watched it countless times throughout the eighties.

CREEPSHOW is a film done in the style of a 50’s comic book but with very adult themes and language. Five stories are presented within the film as well as a prologue and epilogue.

I was looking forward to watching CREEPSHOW after not seeing the film in quite some time. Adding to the excitement was the recently purchased Blu-ray of CREEPSHOW that I’ve been dying to take for a spin. I had forgotten just how much fun this movie really is! Yes, this flick contains ghouls and monsters that might get some 21 century eyes rolling but this film also still has some genuine scares that still work in 2009. The film has a great cast of character actors that includes Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen and E.G. Marshall.

Throw away that old snapper case DVD! Newly released on Blu-ray, the film has never looked better on home video. Considering that the DVD is almost 10 years old and that the widescreen version was cropped from the full screen version (!) the upgrade is well worth it. More extras would have been sublime. Alas, the blu-ray, like the region 1 DVD before it, contains only the films theatrical trailer. The region 2 DVD, released in the United Kingdom is 2007, is reportedly jam packed with extras. Alas, the Blu-ray is the best way to go transfer wise here in the states.

I followed my screening of CREEPSHOW with a film that might have helped inspire it.

During the 60’s and 70’s, a small British studio tried to give Hammer studios a run for its money. This studio, Amicus, specialized in horror anthologies. One of these was THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD.

The film contains four segments that all center on one house. An inspector from Scotland Yard is investigating the disappearance of a film star who had recently rented the house. As he investigates, he is told of the house’s history and that’s how we are introduced to each tale. The film is more psychological than CREEPSHOW, with twist endings to each story that’s not far removed from TWILIGHT ZONE or better yet NIGHT GALLERY. The film has some genuinely creepy moments. It’s also drips with satire. More than once, the filmmakers wink at you, letting you know that this is only a movie. (At one point a character reminisces about how he misses the "old, great" horror movies, and mentions Dracula. He then adds: "the one with Bela Lugosi of course, not this new fellow," obviously referring to Christopher Lee, who is also in the film. Also, a wax figure of Christopher Lee as Dracula menacing a young lady is briefly seen.)

This film has a great cast that includes Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Denholm Elliott, Jon Pertwee and Ingrid Pitt. The screenplay is by Robert Bloch, who also wrote the original PSYCHO novel.

The DVD released via Lions Gate looks great for a film of this vintage. It's anamorphic for proper display on 16 x 9 widescreen televisions. Curiously, there is no mention on the DVD case that this is an Amicus release.

This is a double feature that was really a lot of fun. Amicus also did a film a few years later called TALES FROM THE CRYPT. Come to think of it, that film might be a better match with CREEPSHOW. Whatever you decide, remember to turn the lights out…

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Suggested Viewings

A new section of Reel Cinema where we try and pair up two or more movies that can be watched back to back as a double feature or on consecutive nights that either compares or contrasts a theme or a vibe or something that links these movies together and we think would be a great watch. Hope you enjoy