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Sunday, 31 October 2010

At The Fleapit: The Phantom Of The Opera (1925)


Rather than our traditional Halloween supper, this year Rachel and I took in a screening of the 1925 silent movie The Phantom Of The Opera being shown at a nearby stately home and former residence of Victorian inventor Sir David Salomons.

The movie was accompanied by a live performance by Donald MacKenzie, organist at the Odeon Leicester Square, on Salomons' magnificent Welte Philharmonic Organ (see picture below).

Produced by Carl Laemmle and  directed by Rupert Julian, the film starred Lon Chaney as The Phantom (he famously did his own magnificent make-up) and Mary Philbin.

I was rather concerned to start with as the opening scenes seemed painfully slow; probably due to me being a 21st Century philistine not used to watching movies without voices - but once The Phantom (Chaney) came into the picture the plot raced along.

In fact, I felt rather sorry for Erik (aka The Phantom) as he had done everything he did with the best intentions, for the love of an ungrateful woman. Christine Daaé (Philbin) never thanked him for teaching her to sing so well and making her the star of the Paris Opera. Instead she chose her slimy boyfriend Vicomte Raoul De Chagny (Norman Kerry) who only appeared to have wealth - and a non-freakish countenance - going for him.

Much about the film surprised me as well, particularly - for a black and white film - the exotic and clever use of colour. I'm not just talking about the different filters or film stock that give certain scenes a green or sepia tint, but actual spot colour; namely in the Masqued Ball sequence where, as well as a few blues in some of the costumes, there were vast swathes of exotic reds - most prominently, of course, in Erik's costume as the Red Death (from the Poe story, The Mask Of The Red Death).

If ever there was a film that live organ music fitted it's The Phantom Of The Opera and Donald MacKenzie's accompaniment was faultless, matching the action on the big screen perfectly - so although it was a silent movie we could still hear Erik's composition as he played it for Christine.

Even though the famous 'unmasking' scene is now incredibly tame by today's horror standards, it's easy to see how a less cinematically sophisticated audience back in the 1920s and '30s - little understanding the nature of special effects and make-up - could have been shocked by the sudden revelation of The Phantom's distorted features. To this day, I still see it as one of the definitive classic horror "looks".

My single niggle about the show - and it only served to remind me of one of the many reasons I now prefer to watch films in my own lounge - was that I was seated behind a slightly stinky Catweazle whose bouffant pyramid of white hair blocked about a quarter of the screen, no matter whether I squirmed to the left or right (no doubt, in turn, irritating the poor person sat behind me!)

Again
, it feels very wrong to headline this write-up "at the fleapit", but when I started this thread on HeroPress for movies seen away from my couch and TV screen, I never imagined I'd be seeing movies in such historic and atmospheric surroundings.

Situated in Southborough - between Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge - Salomons, of course, was also the site of our wedding, back in 2007, so it holds special memories for us anyway and we like to come back when we can if we see an event listed here that attracts our interest.

Welte philharmonic organ at Sir David Lionel Salomons House, Science Theatre, Southborough. Photo in the company catalogue of Welte & Sons from 1914, photographer unknown

A Pair Of Ravens...



The Raven, read By John De Lancie. Presented by Quantum Mechanix.

Or



The Raven, as read by Stan 'The Man' Lee. For FRED Entertainment.

DVD Of The Week: A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)

What's Halloween without a bit of horror? And this year's remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street (just out on DVD) certainly has that - although maybe not in the way you were expecting.

I think a lot of people were put off when this came out at the cinema because it wasn't a slavish retelling of the original movie.

This parallel universe version of the world-famous Freddy Kruegar story is all about the bait-and-switch, from its use of memorable beats from the original that play out totally differently to the central plot actually being less about the supernatural dream world and more about finding out who Freddy really was.

A group of teenage friends - including Supernatural's Katie Cassidy as Kris, The Sarah Connor Chronicle's Thomas Dekker as Jesse, Kyle Gallner as Quentin and Rooney Mara as Nancy - are being plagued with frighteningly realistic dreams about a burned man with a glove of knives. Then a couple of them die and the survivors realise that there is something more to the dreams.

But they are connected by more than just their dreams and the fact that they all live on Elm Street in Springwood. Nancy and Quentin discover that they were all pupils at a pre-school together where Freddy was the kind and attentive gardener - but their parents started to get the idea that Freddy was abusing the kids and decided to sort him out in their own way, rather than getting the authorities involved and having to put the children through the ordeal of testifying in a trial.

But was Freddy really a paedophile? Were the children's stories reliable? Is Freddy now haunting the children out a sense of injustice at his murder or just continuing the vile practices that his burning alive temporarily halted?

I'm a big fan of the unreliable narrator gimmick in movies - if not overused - and thought its use here was very intriguing; in the original, of course, there is never any doubt over Freddy's guilt, making the parents' vigilantism slightly more justified.

By tackling the sensitive area of child abuse, the filmmakers have immediately stripped this incarnation of Freddy of any potential for "anti-hero" cult status. The original Freddy films very quickly glossed over why Freddy had gone after the children and eventually it was forgotten about completely to make room for increasingly elaborate death scenes and cutting one-liners.

Although this Freddy does deliver a couple of zingers, they are all together more creepy because of the serious overtones that we are never allowed to forget (but more about forgetting things in a moment...).

It's the tackling of paedophilia that makes this story so unnerving and uncomfortable viewing, hitting head-on a topic that was skirted round in Wes Craven's original and totally ignored in the sequels. How is being a child-killer somehow more socially acceptable than being a suspected child molester?

Ultimately Robert Englund will always be Freddy to the masses, but Jackie Earle Haley (forever Rorschach) makes the character his own in this movie - because it is a very different movie. In a disturbing way, Haley's Freddy is more human while Englund's was always more demon.

Haley's Freddy, however, is the true monster rather than the playful anti-hero fit to be merchandised up the wazoo. Hypocritically, though, I do frequently wear the new Elm Street T-shirt I won a couple of months ago in an online competition.

If this version of the Krueger story had come first and then people had seen the 1984 version they would have probably wondered what all the silly stuff with sleep clinics and lightbulbs filled with gunpower was about.

The elephant in the room isn't "who is the better Freddy", but the unfortunately contrived, semi-amnesia all the children have about their days at pre-school. Not only can none of them remember Freddy (even once his name is brought up), but they can't even remember that they all knew each when they were five.

Sure, I could buy some kids maybe forgetting the other children who moved away, but you simply don't forget that you've known someone since you were five if you've remained constant, close friends (who all live on the same street) all your lives. You don't invent some imaginary meeting when you were all teens and then block out everything before.

I realise some abused children understandably repress memories of what has happened to them but for an obviously close circle of friends to all wipe the same large chunk of years (between pre-school and being teens) - and not wonder about the gaps that would possibly have been left - is stretching things a bit.

Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer's script doesn't even to begin to explain away this rather crucial hole in the plot, which is a shame because it undermines much of the gravitas of the situation.

Personally, despite its faults, I found the 2010 Nightmare On Elm Street a powerful horror film and a worthy addition to the Freddy canon. It certainly won't replace the original movie, but it doesn't detract from it either. The two movies are two very different beasts and need to be considered as such.

Sunday Funny: Twilight Special

Vampirella Week: Happy Halloween!

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Merlin: The Eye of the Phoenix


It's hard to believe this is even the same programme that I so ridiculed during its first season. Episodes such as The Eye Of The Phoenix are pretty much everything I look for in a fantasy drama (of which there are so few anyway, now that Legend Of The Seeker has been cruelly axed).

While I doubt the team behind this season are hardened Dungeons & Dragons players, this episode was the definitive D&D adventure compressed into 50 minutes of quality television.

To prove his right to rule Camelot - after his father's death - Arthur was required to perform a quest alone and unaided. He chose to venture to the Perilous Lands and retrieve the trident of the land's mythical sorcerer-king ruler, The Fisher King.

Unfortunately he was, unknowingly, handicapped by the good luck charm - a magical bracelet - that Morgana had given him (the very Eye Of The Phoenix itself), which rapidly sapped his strength.

Her plan being that if Arthur died on his quest she'd be the next in line for the throne (although it wasn't clear if she, too, would have to prove herself on some dangerous quest as well).

At the border-bridge into the Perilous Kingdom, Arthur encountered the mystical guardian Grettir (Warwick Davis) and I couldn't help but think of Tim The Enchanter from Monty Python & The Holy Grail when he said he had a question to ask Arthur.

Merlin, of course, had rumbled Morgana's plan and set off to help Arthur, on the way recruiting Gwaine (
Eoin Macken) to assist him.

They finally caught up with Arthur as he made his way into The Fisher King's Dark Tower (which bore an uncanny similarity to a small-scale version of Saruman's Tower of Orthanc from Lord Of The Rings).

Arthur was battling a pair of wyverns - magical monsters related to dragons - and not doing particularly well, because of his cursed trinket.

However, he wasn't particularly happy when Merlin (who was able to use his 'dragonlord' shtick on the wyverns) and Gwaine saved him because he was supposed to be completing his quest solo.

Investigating the rest of the tower, Merlin became trapped in a throne room with the aged, cobweb-covered Fisher King (
Donald Sumpter) who explained that this was really Merlin's quest, not Arthur's, before giving him a vial of water of the Lake Of Avalon and dire warnings about the future safety of Albion.

Meanwhile, back on the homefront, Gwen had started to suspect something was up with Morgana when she thought she saw her colluding with the outlaw Morgause (Emilia Fox). Gwen then hid in Morgana's room and espied her using black magic.

She confided in Gaius, who confirmed that she was right to be wary of Morgana.

The Eye Of The Phoenix had it all: quests, cursed magical items, mystical guardians, magic (both black and white), monsters, fights, conspiracies, prophecies and the first real suggestion that young Merlin is becoming the great wizard we all know from legend.

A crucial episode to the overall story arc, I wonder where this is going to leave Morgana at the end of the season as she is rapidly losing allies in the court, as more people unearth her dark secrets.

The Perilous Realm was incredibly well realised as well, with its swamps of fecal quicksand and blasted brown wilderness of tree stumps and harsh rocks. I sincerely hope the show finds a reason to revisit that magic-blighted land - although it might have changed somewhat now that the quest is over.

It was also fascinating (especially for a cartography geek and gamer like me) to see, albeit briefly, Arthur's maps of the lands and learn more names of territories and areas, which all contributes to reinforcing the show's verisimilitude.

With five episodes left in the season I'd love to think that everything from now until the finale would be as good as The Eye Of The Phoenix and sticking to the main storyline, which has really come to the fore this year, but next week's episode - Love In The Time Of Dragons - looks as though it could be a woeful filler about Gaius' love life (!). Of course, looks can be deceiving and as
Grettir warned: "Nothing is as it seems."

Musical Interlude: Dungeon Master Gurls...



Dungeon Master Gurls, from The Second City Network, the new media branch of The Second City, the biggest sketch and improv school in the world, which spawned such talent as Tina Fey, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert - to name but a few.

This video, in case you hadn't realised, is a parody of Kat Perry's California Gurls.

The Hobbit (second act)

From last week...





To be concluded...

Vampirella Week: Day Six...

Ladies & Gentlemen, Ia Ia Cthulhu Fhtagn!

Halloween is almost here and I'm sure you're all busy getting your costumes ready, filling bowls with sweets for the visiting trick or treaters and overdosing on delightfully trashy horror movies, but let's take a moment to politely welcome the latest recruits to our friendly HeroPress superteam:

* Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin of The Tainted Archive, Stumbling Blindly - A Writer's Life and Robert Hale Ltd Authors and Books 

* Lubbert Das (aka Colin Lorimer, creator of webcomic UXB) of Lubbert-Das

Friday, 29 October 2010

The Walking Dead Stagger Closer...


While our American cousins only have to wait until Sunday (aka Halloween) for the start of The Walking Dead, us Brits have to wait another week - until November 5 - to see Robert Kirkman's on-going saga of survival horror come to unlife on our television screens.

The series debuts on FXUK, at 10pm, with a the 70-minute director's cut of the first episode (Days Gone By), devoid of any annoying ad breaks.

The subsequent five 44-minute episodes (entitled Guts; Tell It To The Frogs; Vatos; Wildfire; and TS-19), which make up the balance of Season One, will follow on the following Fridays, in the 10pm to 11pm slot.

If you can't wait, you can see a sneak peak from the first episode here or even watch the Day Of The Triffids/28 Days Later-like first four and a half minutes of the episode here.

K9: Mind Snap

Ah, the inevitable 'clip' episode! Mind Snap is K9's answer to the money-saving 'Doctor-lite' episodes of the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who.

A simple three-hander featuring only K9, Starkey and the Professor in the framing sequences, this episode has K9's memory wiped during an experiment with the Space-Time Manipulator (STM) and the two humans having to help him remember who he is.

This involves K9 "recalling" his recent adventures through the use of clips from the show.

A pleasant-enough jaunt down memory lane, but ultimately just a filler episode, Mind Snap doesn't really add anything to the show's mythology besides reminding us that officially K9, Gryffen and the children are supposedly "the K9 unit" reporting to June Turner (not that this has ever been mentioned again after it was initially established way back in a very early episode, The Bounty Hunter).

It also reinforces the notion that there is some link between K9 and the STM, but ultimately the Professor admits that perhaps they'll never know what it is!

Of course, unless somewhere down the line, some kind of agreement is hammered out between the makers of this show and the BBC, K9 is never going to remember anything from before he arrived in Regeneration, leaving us eagle-eyed fanboys to look out for the occasional sly Easter Eggs that fans on the production team slip in. 

By Mind Snap's close of play, K9 has remembered that he is a "cybernetic construct" and not a dog, that he doesn't need to initiate his self-destruct sequence again and that Starkey and Gryffen are his friends - not hostile alien life forms - and all is well in the world again.

K9: Robot Gladiators


When one of Darius' contacts tip him off to an illegal underground robot 'fight club', he and K9 go undercover - with the metal mutt posing as a wannabe contestant and Darius as his promoter.

The fights are being organised by Freddie 'The Entertainer' Maxwell, a Cockney spiv who - while a complete stereotype - isn't anywhere near as annoying as you'd expect such a character to be.

Starkey then gets himself hired by Freddie as a young 'robot genius' and is set to work in 'The Pit' repairing and upgrading the robots.

Meanwhile K9 has befriended two fellow gladiators - ex-circus clown droids Boris and Chuckles - who warn him of the vicious champion The Pain-Maker, a combat droid.

Darius is getting nowhere with his investigation, so the kids decide that Jorjie should also go undercover - as the world's youngest tax inspector - but it's when all three of the children are searching Freddie's office that his backer appears... Thorne!

It turns out that Thorne was orchestrating the whole set-up as an overly elaborate trap to get his hands on K9's "regeneration technology".

Besides the mystery of how Thorne discovered K9's secret power (since only those who were present way back in the first episode, Regeneration, know about it), Robot Gladiators is one of those ridiculously contrived schemes that only work in children's television.

The entire backstory of the episode is rather vague and short of specific detail, but it just about manages to hang together if you don't think about it too hard - and accept the fact that Thorne was strong-arming Freddie to play along with the children's plan as part of his broader scheme.

But let's be honest the kids must be pretty dumb if they seriously believe that Freddie would buy Jorjie - who bears a passing resemblance to Emma Watson in the first Harry Potter movie - as a tax inspector.

And they never question the fact that someone who runs a one-man, illegal, operation is suddenly willing to hire a kid off the street, who claims to be an expert on robots, to run a part of his enterprise which presumably he previously handled himself!

Bizarrely, when he's been rumbled and K9 has dealt with the 'solarmite' explosives he packed into The Pain-Maker, Thorne simply gives up and walks away... even though he has a couple of his robot police goons with him and could have simply snatched K9 and been done with it.

He and his plan collapse like a house of cards and he might as well have said: "And I would have got away with it if it wasn't for those meddling kids" as he stomped off in a hissy-fit.

The only redeeming feature of Robot Gladiators is Thorne's interactions, in the denouement, with his shadowy, unseen boss, suggesting that not only did this daft sting operation have the backing of The Department but that there is actually an overriding story arc unfolding which will continue in future episodes.

What I don't get though is Britain has been established as a police state in K9, under the iron boot of The Department, and The Department wants K9's technology and knows where he is, so why doesn't it just send a unit of robot coppers into Gryffen's mansion and take the tin dog?

Why go to these extreme lengths - when ultimately it has no one to answer to but itself - with bizarre schemes that are set-up to fail, to try and 'cleverly' capture something it could easily take by force?

Unfortunately it's episodes like this that expose a major flaw in the series' story background - you can't have a 1984-style fascist dictatorship that also is beholden to public opinion. I don't think Orwell's Big Brother was particularly bothered about what the general population thought of him. He had enough people doing his bidding to make sure it happened and any 'rebellion' therefore had to be secretive.

Here, Starkey, K9, Darius and co are too public and 'in the face' of their opponents to convincingly keep getting away with what they are doing - especially when, as in Robot Gladiators, they show that they are just children and aren't exactly cut out for taking on 'The Man'.

Halloween Review Round-Up: Zombies - A Hunter's Guide, Matthew Hopkins - Witchfinder General, Hack/Slash Omnibus, Volume 1

Zombies - A Hunter's Guide, by Joseph A McCullough: Osprey has had a long history of publishing beautifully illustrated, compact military history books, but - as far as I am aware - this zombie tome is their first sortie into 'fictional territory'.

With the same eye for detail as the publisher's more mainstream books, Joseph McCullough gives us a fine overview of the various kinds of zombies that have plagued our world through the centuries, the professional bodies that combat them, their hardware of choice and tactics.

Like other Osprey books, Zombies shows you the tip of the iceberg, enough to satisfy the casual inquiring mind or pique the interest of those who want to know more while directing them to the sources of further information (although in this case most are equally fictitious volumes, some even held in the library of HP Lovecraft's famous Miskatonic University).

The text is also peppered with delightful Easter Eggs, incidents presented as factual events that zombie connoisseurs will recognise as elements from famous zombie movies, as well as embracing all makes and models of the walking dead - from those raised by magic and voodoo, through the slow shambling flesh-eaters to the faster virus-spawned zombies and even the 'mythical' zombie masters. Each classification having its specific weaknesses, strengths and identifying tells.

I'd put this book on a par with Max Brooks' Zombie Survival Guide, although this certainly isn't a "how to" book by any stretch of the imagination. This is a serious (if slightly tongue-in-cheek, but never to the detriment of the book's purpose) look at a 'real' problem and an insight into the methods of the professionals who have to deal with it.

Published under a new imprint, Dark Osprey Productions, there has been no indication if this the first of a series (which I hope it is) as there are many hints of other areas of the paranormal in this book that are considered "real" in the Dark Osprey universe (from black magic to vampires).

The only slight criticism I might level at this book is its use of some artwork from The Walking Dead comic books which, as brilliant and atmospheric as it is, seems on a par with using using stills from a war movie to illustrate one of their historical books.


Matthew Hopkins - Witchfinder General (1968): Another old relic resurrected for BBC 4's Horror Season, this Vincent Price vehicle from the late '60s has not aged well. While its core message may still ring true, the stilted acting, poor lighting and effects and erratic direction make this difficult viewing and quite dull in parts.

This is a tale about the danger of religious fanaticism, the corrupting influence of power and the hold superstition has over the ignorant masses (all, sadly, still facets of modern society) during the anarchy and social upheaval of the English Civil War.

After an initial hanging scene, the action slows to a glacial pace for about a quarter of an hour before the Wichfinder reappears. Some random nudity breaks the monotony, but the inconsistent pacing of the piece only serves to draw attention to the film's obvious low budget.

Vincent Price is delightfully wicked as the titular Witchfinder, with his slimy and sadistic assistant John Stearne (Robert Russell), traveling from town to town 'unmasking' witches and torturing them to death... for a fee, of course!

After killing a papist priest and molesting his niece Sara (Hilary Dwyer), Hopkins and Stearne draw the ire of young Roundhead soldier Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy), Sara's husband-to-be. Marshall swears revenge on Hopkins and begins to pursue him across the country.

For a film branded upon its release as "The Year's Most Violent Film!", it's incredibly tame by today's standards - and the apparent use of thick red paint as a blood substitute doesn't help.

If ever there was an old horror film in need of a remake it's this one, possibly even more topical now than its makers in '68 could ever have imagined it to be.

Hack/Slash Omnibus, Volume 1 - Hack/Slash was a comic book title I'd heard of for quite some time but knew nothing about until the Internet campaign to get Warehouse 13's Allison Scagliotti cast as Cassie Hack in a planned film of the series.

Cut from the same cloth as Buffy The Vampire Slayer - in fact both spring from the same simple idea of turning the "final girl" of horror movie tradition into the aggressor - Hack/Slash is Buffy if it had been an HBO show, complete with sex, swearing and gruesomely OTT blood and gore. There's also a dash of Tank Girl anarchy in there for good measure.

Where Buffy comes from the Gothic horror tradition of Dracula, vampires, werewolves etc, Cassie Hack is firmly rooted in the contemporary slasher genre. Writer Tim Seeley has even gone one step further and turned 'slashers' into their own sub-class of undead.

This first omnibus collects 11 issues of Hack/Slash, plus a bonus short story and 40 pages of sketches, designs, interviews etc about the development and back story of the characters.

The daughter of a slasher (her first kill), Cassie and her lovable hulking sidekick Vlad travel from the town to town following reports of slashers and tip offs from people they befriend along the way - in much the same way that the Winchesters track the paranormal in Supernatural.

Unfortunately, as befits the slasher genre, people Cassie and Vlad become friends with tend to become targets of future - or recurring - attackers.

A key element to the success of Hack/Slash is although the 'potential victim' is now the protagonist, in all other ways the comics conform to the tropes of the slasher genre.

Although the whole affair is handled in quite a tongue-in-cheek way, Seeley has clearly put a lot of thought into the story, from giving each killer a unique spin to the growth of Cassie's character.

Addictive and compelling reading material, one of the best stories sees Cassie forming an uncomfortable alliance with horror icon Chucky to take down an old enemy of hers and also look out for comic book celebrity guest stars in earlier stories.

Hugely entertaining - although not for the feint-hearted - Hack/Slash is a worthy successor to Buffy's crown and, as her own particular mythology grows, the first character I have encountered who could potentially surpass Sunnydale's Slayer.

All this has me quite excited for Eden Studio's Hack/Slash card game and the hope that they eventually bring out a roleplaying game as well, based on their excellent Cinematic Unisystem - which would be a perfect match for Cassie's adventures.

Vampirella Week: Day Five...

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

DVD Of The Week: Iron Man 2 (2010)

What can I say? I love this film. For me it's the perfect encapsulation of a comic book story arc in cinematic form. Sure, it's not It's A Wonderful Life or Citizen Kane, but this is Iron Man, brought to life off the pages of the comics I enjoy every month and blasted into my front room.

I wish I'd have gotten to see it on the big screen, but this way at least I enjoyed it with a curry, a beverage of my choice and washed down with a bowl of ice cream. All in all, an ideal evening's entertainment.

Kicking off six months after Tony Stark's announcement at the end of Iron Man (that he was Iron Man), things aren't going well for Stark.

For starters, it transpires that the technology keeping him alive is actually killing him and he can't find a cure, then the US Government - as personified by slimy senator Stern (Garry Shandling) - wants to get hold of the Iron Man suit and he's also having to deal with his annoying business rival, Justin Hammer (the ever-reliable Sam Rockwell).

Meanwhile in Russia, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) the embittered son of a former colleague of Tony's father is building his own 'suit' to gain revenge on Stark for the injustices he believes his father suffered.

He attacks Stark during a special staging of the Monaco Grand Prix (my favourite Grand Prix circuit - so bonus points there) and is only defeated after knocking seven bells out of Iron Man.

Imminent death from blood poisoning pushes Stark over the edge, he hits rock bottom and his old chum Lt Col James 'Rhodey' Rhodes (now morphed into Don Cheadle) has had enough and 'steals' one of Tony's spare suits so he can become War Machine (after a great Iron Man vs War Machine, property-trashing tussle).

Hammer secretly recruits Vanko to build a fleet of suits that will guarantee his company's dominance over Stark - little realising that Vanko will, inevitably, use this access to vast resources for his own agenda.

While all this is going on, Tony has handed over the running of Stark Industries to his able assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and appointed himself a new assistant, the curvaceous Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson), unaware that she is actually SHIELD agent Natasha Romanoff, working for Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson).

Everything builds towards a spectacular climax that sees Iron Man and War Machine facing off against Vanko and his army of drones.

I do enjoy a good superhero-on-supervillain brawl in a movie and only wish this one could have lasted longer.

It's a complex plot, but it's not that hard to follow if you pay attention and it's a brilliantly written script by Justin Theroux, full of sharp banter, witty one-liners, and tight dialogue, so really you have no excuse. Unless, of course you find all the objects blowing up on the screen to be slightly distracting!

The action may be loud and proud but it still allows room for the character work, that reflects the intricacies of the scenario, creating the ideal balancing trick of character development and epic explosions.

Without a doubt Robert Downey Junior was born to play Tony Stark and these days I can't imagine anyone else in the role; his chemistry with everyone he interacts with is spot-on: you can tell he and Rhodey are great friends, sense the simmering sexual tension with Pepper and totally empathise with him when he's grandstanding before the Government sub-committee.

In fact there's nothing to dislike about this movie - if you are a comic book fan. The only aspect I'd had slight concerns about going in was Rourke as the villainous Whiplash, but the moment I saw him on screen, in context, I forgot all my trepidation and just went with it.

And don't forget, once you've watched this DVD, to fast forward through the lengthy credits to the key scene right at the end of the movie which shows where SHIELD agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) was posted and finishes with a geekgasm-worthy teaser for the next Marvel movie: Thor.

If only all comic book movies could be as smart, entertaining and true to the spirit of their source material as Iron Man 2 and still come wrapped in a rock 'em, sock 'em package that defines the word "blockbuster".

K9: Liberation

Out of nowhere, I literally stumbled across a middle-of-the-night screening of the second episode of K9 last night.

Perhaps Disney might now show the final seven episodes of the series, so we can judge this Australian Doctor Who spin-off in its entirety rather than just part of the season?

Anyway, back to Liberation: having been “tagged” by Jixen slime, Starkey is in hiding from the Department and the Jixen Warrior who survived K9’s blast.

Darius isn't exactly thrilled to have Starkey in the mansion, but when they learn that the Jixen is heading towards The Department's top security prison - in the Tower Of London - which is filled with 'innocent alien species' and the Jixen's arch enemy, a shape-changing Merron, K9 is sent off to recce.

Starkey and Darius follow (in Darius's robot car, and this is the best use of the car we have yet seen in the show) ... naturally ending up imprisoned in the Tower themselves, with the threat of Starkey being sent back to the rubbish 'virtual prison' to serve an additional six months on top of the six months he was supposedly serving anyway.

Cunning Jorjie manages to swan into the maximum security prison and free the boys - along with all the imprisoned aliens - but this means Starkey ends up facing the Jixen. He cleverly tricks the Jixen with the cunning ruse of 'dumping his scented jacket' (why he hadn't thought of that before I don't know!).

The Meron appears and gets scared off by the Jixen and all this leads to some classic Doctor Who-style running around in corridors before the final showdown.

One thing that has to be said about K9 is that when the show puts some effort into its aliens - often costumes that conjure suggestions of Power Rangers' monsters - they can be pretty good; certainly better than the Muppet-esque Shansheeth that appeared in this week's Sarah Jane Adventures (Death Of The Doctor).

One of the background aliens in the 'mass escape' I noted bore a passing resemblance to a Jagaroth, but I'm sure that's a simple coincidence as, of course, Scaroth from City Of Death is the last of his kind!

Liberation turned out to actually be a key episode in the series as it introduces us to Thorne (Jared Robinsen) before he becomes June Turner's boss, when he was still the governor of The Department's Dauntless prison - where aliens discovered on Earth are taken to be "observed and catalogued", as Jorjie's mum June (Robyn Moore) explains to Professor Gryffen (Robert Moloney).

It also showed us a couple of times - albeit briefly - Gryffen's missing wife and children, in a holopicture, as they would appear later in the season in The Fall Of The House Of Gryffen.

The aerial shots of the Dauntless prison, with its floating spherical 'robot' guards gave me the leftfield idea that maybe these spheres are some variety of Toclafane and actually all this is happening on Earth during the 'lost year' when The Master was in charge?

I realise this doesn't tally with K9's stated setting of 2050s London... but maybe The Master did something to the world's calendars... or he just changed the year? It's just a thought...

Willow Brings The Magic!



Hollywood actor Warwick Davis - aka Willow Ufgood from George Lucas' fantasy Willow and Wicket the Ewok from Return Of The Jedi -  is just one of the guest stars in this week's Merlin, which sees Arthur facing The Fisher King.

The episode's taster text, from the BBC Merlin website, says: "Arthur embarks on a solitary quest to retrieve the Golden Trident from the Fisher King and prove himself worthy of the Camelot throne. With the Prince beyond the protection of the citadel, Morgana sees an opportunity to use her dark magic and gives him a precious bracelet containing a Phoenix Eye. She insists he wears it at all times for protection, but it saps him of his life force and he is left defenceless in the Fisher King's perilous realm. With the help of Gwaine, can Merlin reach him in time and fulfil his own quest to protect the future king of Camelot?"

Vampirella Week: Day Three...

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Death Of The Doctor

A squad of UNIT troopers roll up outside 13 Bannerman Road, much to Sarah Jane's disgust, to inform her that her old friend The Doctor is dead.

His body has been shipped from the distant planet where it was discovered to Earth - with Gallifrey being gone, Earth was like his second home anyway - for a funeral to be conducted by the giant, vulture-like Shansheeth, the universe's undertakers.

Clyde and Rani join Sarah Jane as she is taken to the UNIT base under Mount Snowdon where the funeral is to happen. There she meets fellow, former companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning) and both refuse to accept that The Doctor is dead.

Clyde and Rani are joined by Jo's grandson
Santiago Jones (Finn Jones aka Jamie the drug dealer from Hollyoaks) as they embark on their investigation in the underground base, when The Doctor makes a dramatic appearance - by changing places with Clyde (using the artron energy Clyde absorbed from the TARDIS during their last encounter, The Wedding Of Sarah Jane Smith).

Written by Russell T Davies, Death Of The Doctor is woven through with a passion for the Classic Era of the show (where, of course, both of the former companions made their debuts), with Sarah Jane remembering both the Third and Fourth incarnations of the Time Lord and both women sharing tales of their travels through time and space. Even The First and Second Doctors got a look in in one of the stories' many fan-serving flashblacks.

The UNIT base was a fantastic setting - although much of its interior was stereotypical Whovian corridors for people to run up and down - with some memorable set-pieces, such as the dramatic exterior and the striking rocket that was to launch the dead Doctor's body into space.

Naturally, the whole thing is a fiendish trap for a rogue group of aliens to steal the TARDIS, but it is expertly handled by RTD. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's one of his strongest 'Doctor Who' stories.

Although the Shansheeth talked the talk as an interesting alien species - with a fantastic, supervillain goal for their "crusade" - there's no escaping the fact that not only are they yet another alien species that looks like an Earth animal (vultures in this case) but physically - as much as I prefer alien costumes over CGI effects - they were rubbish rejects from The Muppet Show.

Jo's grandson was also a rather redundant character, except as a sounding board for Clyde and Rani's introspective discussion of what exciting lives they lead, while crawling through the massive UNIT ventilation system. I'm pretty sure Santiago did nothing but stand around for the entire duration of the story.

Ex-Footballers Wife Laila Rouass made a sultry UNIT Colonel Karim and it's a shame we probably won't get to see her again, but the true, magical highlights of the story were the scenes where Jo and Sarah Jane got to reflect on their time with The Doctor, or interact with him directly, often a bringing a lump to this grizzled old fan's throat. Even Sarah's roll call of former companions she'd tracked down over the years was enough to bring on a minor geekgasm.

Of course, when people started talking about the Doctor being dead - but not allowing Sarah Jane to see his body  - I immediately thought of Lawrence Miles' Alien Bodies novel, even though that's almost certainly too complex a plot to squeeze down into two half-hour episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures. As it turned out, I was being too clever for my own good, and Russell had his own ideas where to go with the story.

And yes, The Doctor does make a comment to Clyde about being to regenerate over 500 times... but it's flippant, a joke. He was bantering. Stand down, angry fandom, RTD has not overturned Doctor Who mythology in a spin-off show. At least, not yet...

Getting In The Halloween Spirit...



In this week before Halloween it is only fitting that our thoughts turn to delightfully OTT monster movies such as Behemoth (see trailer above)- a future classic coming to the SyFy channel.

To quote its YouTube page: "An earthquake reactivates a long-dormant volcano threatening the small town of Ascension, trembling in its shadow. But the gaping maws in the region reveal evidence of something else—a centuries-old subterranean creature at last given the chance to break free in a black cloud of fire and ash. As the Behemoth wreaks havoc, it's a race against time as a small band of rescuers fight it with a force as destructive as the beast itself."

Next up, I present for your delectation Orcs!



This insanely brilliant, high concept movie (Lord Of The Rings' orcs invade a national park in modern day America) borders on genius for its dumb simplicity and is one of those ideas that every Dungeons & Dragons player has toyed with at some stage.

Thanks to Quiet Earth for tipping me off to this one, I have subsequently discovered the movie has its own Facebook page, which offers this plot summary:

"Orcs Orcs Orcs are battle ready, ugly, peeved and pouring out of the mountain to wreak havoc and destruction on outdoor enthusiasts and eventually all of mankind. Our collective fates lie in the hands of our hero trio; a couple of bumbling but well-meaning park rangers and Katie, a hot and feisty, over-the-top environmentalist."

The final offering today is a bit more high-brow and a bit more personal: Guillermo del Toro's adaptation of HP Lovecraft's At The Mountains Of Madness.

I don't think I could have asked for a better director to bring my favourite Lovecraft tale to the big screen, Del Toro's vision has always been quite Lovecraftian in my opinion.

There's no release date as yet - or any real details (except that it's being shot in 3D and James Cameron is producing; this could be the first movie to entice me to slip on those crappy, plastic 3D goggles), but in the meantime here's an atmospheric fan-trailer for the tale (made a years before the film was announced):

Vampirella Week: Day Two...

Monday, 25 October 2010

Merlin Conjures Fourth!


Who would have thought two or three years ago, after Merlin's pretty dire debut season, that I'd be celebrating the news of the BBC commissioning a further 10 episodes of the show?

However, as I hope my reviews have shown, the show has gone from strength-to-strength in the ensuing years and now rates as a 'must watch' here at HeroPress Towers, hence the trumpets, drums and banners for the following announcement from Aunty Beeb:

"Saturday night family hit Merlin is to return for a fourth series, BBC One bosses have announced.

"The third series of the retelling of the Arthurian legend has regularly attracted average audiences of more than six million.

"'Merlin continues to perform outstandingly well against The X Factor,' the BBC's controller of drama commissioning Ben Stephenson said. 'I'm pleased to confirm that the magical world of Camelot will be returning next year for a fourth series of this fresh and modern retelling of a classic British legend.'

"Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy, executive producers for Shine TV, said: 'We are both delighted with the continuing success of Merlin, and relish the chance to take the series to the next level with the long-awaited arrival of the Knights of the Round Table.'

"Series three has seen a host of high-profile guest-stars including: Emilia Fox, Tom Ellis, Miriam Margoyles, Warwick Davies and Pauline Collins.

"[The show] will continue on Saturday evenings on BBC One until the nail biting finale on December 4. Loyal friends and exciting newcomers arrive to rescue Camelot as Morgana's careful plotting is about to reach a potentially devastating and dramatic climax.

"Merlin is made for BBC Cymru Wales by award-winning executive producers Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy from Shine TV, with Bethan Jones as executive producer for the BBC.

"The new 10 x 45 minute series will start filming in March 2011.

"Merlin has also enjoyed phenomenal international success, selling to 180 countries internationally, with series two providing a smash hit success for the Syfy channel in the US, which has already bought the third series currently in production."


Total Sci-Fi Online suggests that the abridged Season Four (from the normal 13 episodes down to 10) will actually "air in 2012 due to the rescheduling of Doctor Who’s sixth series, which has been split in half for 2011".

Moorcock's Who - Initial Thoughts...


If you commission Michael Moorcock to write a book, you are going to get a Michael Moorcock book. It's as simple as that and the BBC must have realised this when they asked Britain's foremost science-fantasy author to pen an adventure for The Doctor.

As with Prisoner Of The Daleks, I must confess to cheating a bit with The Coming Of The Terraphiles in that, although I have the book in glorious (signed-by-the-author) hardback I'm actually listening to an unabridged reading on my iPod Touch.

And I'm only about an hour into the 10 hour, 50 minute lyrical joyride (as I tend to save it for when I'm relaxing in the bath).

The reader is Clive Mantle, best known for his roles in Casualty and Holby City although those of us with longer memories prefer to remember him as Little John in Robin Of Sherwood.

On the straight text he is a fine delivering the lines in a delightfully British, John Cleesesque tone, but it's when he comes to put words in the characters' mouths that things fall apart.

The new characters - so far - are saddled with heavily accented voices (almost caricatures) that are sometimes unintelligible, his rendition of the 11th Doctor is unrecognisable and his interpretation of Amy Pond - turning her into some sketch show Scottish stereotype ("hoots mon, Doctah, where's ma breeks?") - borders on the unbearable. Perhaps he improves as the story develops?

Now I realise the BBC editors are unlikely to have been too keen to tell Moorcock where he strays from generally accepted Doctor Who canon (which is basically from the first page), but you'd have thought that whoever was producing the audio version would have tapped Clive on the shoulder and asked: "Er, what are you doing?" and possibly played him some clips of Karen Gillan talking as Amy Pond!

As I understand it, work began on the book before the recent Doctor Who season was even 'in the can', and so Moorcock would have had no solid guidelines on how the characters would behave and therefore pretty much free rein to mold them as he saw fit.

But so far in the story The Doctor and Amy are secondary characters anyway, the bulk of the narrative being handed over to a cast of larger-than-life, broad comedy characters that suggest more Iris Wildthyme, or even Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, influences than pure Who.

Although I don't think there's a suggestion that The Doctor is another face of the Eternal Champion, already there has been talk of the Multiverse and a member of the Cornelius family, so I wouldn't be surprised to come across a mention at some point of a thin albino with a giant black sword!

The idea of the 'Terraphiles' themselves - fans of 'ye olde Earth' (and particularly England) who try to preserve their idea of heritage through re-enactments, fanzines etc - is quite jolly, and certainly adds a layer to the Doctor's character, perhaps explaining his own attraction to 20th/21st Century England (he is a longstanding member of the Terraphiles).

The Coming Of The Terraphiles may not turn out to be exactly a 'true' Doctor Who novel, but it's pure Moorcock and I'm fascinated to see how the two very different approaches to science-fiction can eventually gel into a story that (hopefully) makes sense.

Personally, I'm enjoying it (despite Clive's attempts to audibly mangle my vision of Amy) because I'm a massive fan of Moorcock's other work, but I'm not sure what mainstream Doctor Who fans - who might be treating this as 'just another Doctor Who novel' - are going to make of it.

Secretly, I'm harbouring a suspicion that Moorcock is actually no fan of Doctor Who at all and the whole affair is going to turn out to be a massive piss-take. While the evidence is certainly leading me that way, I'm probably not far enough into the story to pass a balanced judgement quite yet.

I shall return later (probably in mid to late November), once I've bathed in the remaining 10 hours to deliver a final verdict (unlike my attempt to endure the audio version of Twilight which just drove me to distraction and never reached a conclusion).

Vampirella Week: Day One...

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Coming Soon: The Whisperer In Darkness...



Just in time for Halloween, the ever-reliable HP Lovecraft Historical Society has released its latest trailer for next year's The Whisperer In Darkness.

A classic in the making. The notoriously hard-to-impress says of the movie that it "could very well be the best adaptation of a Lovecraft story to cinema to date, which is both a testament to how awesome the HPLHS is and how pathetic the big movie studios are".

Here are the previous trailers for The Whisperer In Darkness -




Like the Historical Society's amazing props, original Call of Cthulhu movie and audio dramas, nothing quite gets me in the mood to try my hand at a bit of Call Of Cthulhu role-playing quite like the trailers for its films.

Whatever the society puts out - that helps capture of the atmosphere of Lovecraft's stories - sends a shiver down my spine and my brain (in a jar) racing back to the "roaring 20s".

Sunday Funny: Fangs For The Mammaries...

Once again celebrating the countdown to Halloween with an iconic horror pin-up.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Merlin: The Castle Of Fyrien

As predicted last week, the wonderfully wicked and scheming Lady Morgana (Katie McGrath) makes use of her discovery of the 'connection' between Arthur and Gwen by feeding the information to her sister Morgause (Emilia Fox) and Cenred (Tom Ellis) - Merlin's answer to Robin Hood's Guy Of Gisborne.

Cenred then blackmails Gwen to deliver him Arthur or he will kill Gwen's estranged brother Elyan (Adetomiwa Edun).

Uther can't fathom why his son is so concerned about a maid and so Arthur steals away from Camelot, with Merlin, Gwen and Morgana to liberate Elyan from the isolated Castle of Fyrien, surrounded by sea at the end of a narrow causeway.

While a frontal assault appears to be a suicide mission, Arthur knows of secret tunnels under the castle that will allow his small group easy access.

However, he wasn't banking on Morgana betraying their position - resulting in all four falling into Cenred's hands.

I may have spent most of the first season of Merlin deriding Angel Coulby's Gwen, but the next season started to win me round and this year she has come into her own. While smoldering Morgana is the sexual hub of the episode it is the unspoken, budding romance of Gwen and Arthur that sets the show's heart pumping.

Almost as palpable is the increasing tension between Merlin and Morgana - he knows her secret, but can't do anything about it without solid proof and she thinks he's just an interfering servant - although I'm sure that illusion must get shattered  later this season before both characters explode from pent-up aggression.

The Castle Of Fyrien was another fantastic episode in the style of The Crystal Cave, and could have been its equal except for a couple of mighty contrivances in the latter part of the plot - namely the ease with which Arthur and Merlin (without the use of magic) escaped their prison cell (why didn't Cenrid think to chain them up?) and the fact that Morgana was still playing her role as "innocent hostage" even when it looked as though her side had 'won' (it's as if they knew their plan was going to fail and therefore she needed to appear to stay on Arthur's side).

Nevertheless, the overarching story of the season inches slowly forward and while, ultimately, this episode had little effect on the overall narrative, it was a sterling showcase of how the central characters are developing; demonstrating the lengths Morgana and Morgause are willing to go to to further their ends and strengthening the all-important bond between Arthur and Gwen.

It was also interesting to see the switch in Arthur and Merlin's behaviour from their usual buddy-buddy bromance banter to 'all-business' when they first learned that Gwen was in trouble.

The Hobbit (first act)

This week I present to you the first part of the beloved 1977 animation of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, co-directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr, from a script by Romeo Muller.

The vocal cast includes Orson Bean as Bilbo Baggins, John Huston is Gandalf, Otto Preminger is the voice of Elvenking, Richard Boone is Smaug, Hans Conreid is Thorin, and Brother Theodore is Gollum.





To be continued...

Friday, 22 October 2010

Review Round-Up: 30 Days Of Night - Dark Days, Eragon, Brides Of Dracula

30 Days Of Night - Dark Days (2010): By sloughing off all the best, original bits of 30 Days Of Night, the sequel is rendered simply just a.n.other vampire flick.

With Lost's Kiele Sanchez replacing Melissa George (due to scheduling conflicts apparently) as the lead character, Stella, and the action relocating from the long-night of Barrow, Alaska, to Los Angeles, you rather suspect the wheels are going to come off this vehicle quite rapidly.

And while it never exactly hits rock bottom, there is nothing in 30 Days Of Night: Dark Days that even comes close to the genius of the original, and even the feral vampires themselves seem slightly reserved and underwhelming compared to their predecessors.

It's 10 months after the Barrow massacre and Stella is doing the lecture circuit, preaching to incredulous audiences about the threat of vampires, when she is recruited by a vampire-hunting collective - led a mysterious contact of hers called Dane (Ben Cotton) who, unsurprisingly, turns out to be the stereotypical 'vampire-with-a-conscience' (although his exact motives are rather vague and never really explained).

These vampire-hunters have tracked the Queen Vampire Lilith (Mia Kirshner) to LA and need an extra pair of hands to take her down (not that they actually have a plan anyway).

Along the way there are some nice touches - particularly the criminally-underused 'mobile base' of the vampire gang, which is a subtle nod to Dracula - but the connections to 30 Days Of Night are so tenuous, especially as none of the original actors appear in this flawed, straight-to-DVD, sequel, that you have to wonder why it wasn't just written as a standalone horror movie.

Even the slightly jumbled denouement, which could have been a half-decent twist if it wasn't so obvious, is undermined by this lack of continuity.

For once it's probably best to go into this movie without any knowledge of its prequel as it is the comparisons that are its undoing.

Eragon (2006): In a magical world where dragons are the suppressed symbol of a better age, why does no one spot that the name of a simple farm boy (Ed Speleers) is simply "dragon" with the first letter bumped to the next in the alphabet: Eragon?

It also manages to sound as close as possible to Aragorn (the most famous of fantasy heroes?) without risking a lawsuit from the Tolkien Estate.

Although I'd imagine it would be the Lucasfilm lawyers knocking at the door first as the script is pretty much a reskinning of Star Wars with Eragon as Luke, Brom (Jeremy Irons) as Obi-Wan, Uncle Garrow (Alun Armstrong) as Uncle Owen, the evil king Galbatorix (John Malkovich) and his wizard Durza (Robert Carlyse) as The Emperor and Vader, the captured Princess Arya (Sienna Guillory) as Leia, the rebel Varden as... well, The Rebels; I think you get the picture by now!

Even the supernatural power of The Force is personified by Eragon's CGI dragon Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz) - and Eragon's innate dragon-magic (plot-wise, Saphira also doubles as the Millennium Falcon and the plans to the Death Star!)

There are places where some of the less abysmal dialogue and scenes feel like they are lifted directly from George Lucas' Original Trilogy, with just a few minor tweaks - from magic that "flows through" and "unites" a dragon and its rider to Durza killing an unsuccessful 'boss' minion then promoting one its colleagues into its place.

As there is no Han Solo analogue in the movie at this stage (don't worry, Garrett Hedlund's roguish Murtagh - who has a very Star Wars-y secret of his own - reveals himself a short time later), Durza tortures the Princess to send a 'false' telepathic 'distress call' to trick Eragon into facing him - think Vader on Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back - even though Brom (now in Yoda mode) tells the young farm boy he's not yet ready to face Durza.

And when Eragon busts the Princess out of the Death Star holding cell... er.. Durza's castle, naturally Obi-Brom has to give his life so that the others can escape (although his death scene is more drawn out).

Not only is Eragon unoriginal, it is badly written (for instance, about half an hour in, Jeremy Irons makes an expositional speech that repeats the useful infodump delivered in the movie's stilted voice-over introduction) and the acting that ranges from scene-chewingly hammy (by the established names in the cast - collecting their pay cheques and getting out as soon as possible) to simply bad (by everyone else, particularly from young Eragon himself).

Rather oddly, very early on, talk is made of there being elves and dwarves in the kingdom - but they never actually appear on screen, so you have to wonder why they were brought up in the first place?

On a positive note, the film looks great - the Eastern European scenery is spectacular, the costumes and weaponry are well crafted and the critters are suitably Dungeons & Dragons-y - but such little effort has been made to conceal the source material being plagiarised that the film's best use is as a "spot the Star Wars analogy" drinking game.

And like so many fantasy modern films that have tried to emulate the success of Star Wars, but failed to learn how to do it properly, Eragon finishes mid-story, expecting a sequel to be guaranteed.


Of course none was forthcoming, leaving many plot threads dangling and certain characters totally superfluous!

Brides Of Dracula (1960): Dracula is dead, but his cult lives on in late 19th Century Transylvania. Young Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur) is heading to the Lady's Academy at Bachstadt, where she is to be a student-teacher, but she gets diverted to the home of Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt), little realising that the kindly old eccentric wants to feed her to her imprisoned vampiric son, the Baron (David Peel).

The naive Marianne frees the Baron from his bondage, then flees the castle only to be found unconscious in the woods by Dr Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) who has been called to the village by the local priest.

Marianne eventually makes it to the girls school, but then the Baron shows up and proposes marriage - before turning turning one of her co-workers into a vampire.

Shown as part of BBC4's Horror Season, Brides Of Dracula is fun but forgettable. Cushing is, naturally, the star but Freda Jackson as the Baron's insane nanny - in a Renfield role - is the most striking character, while Peel's Baron has an effete streak about him that makes Edward Cullen look positively macho.

A jolly romp from the Hammer production line, this 85-minute piece of frippery adds nothing to the vampire mythos, ends with the inevitable giant conflagration (as seems de rigeur in Hammer horrors) and includes possibly the most ridiculous use of an object to form a vampire-destroying crucifix: the shadow of the sails of a windmill... the very windmill the vampire was using at its nest!
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