Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Vampire Soiree 2017: Mexican Undead Extravaganza

Greetings once again to the Vampire Soiree, hosted as usual by the lovely Holly of Holly's Horrorland. This year, I'll have the pleasure of looking at a few Mexican vampire films! Unfortunately I wasn't able to procure any more Jean Rollin movies in time for this year's soiree. Hopefully next year!...

The Brainiac

In 1661, the Spanish Inquisition holds a trial for one Baron Vitelius, who they deem guilty for a variety of offenses, burning him at the stake. As he dies, the Baron swears by a passing meteor that he shall return to Earth with it in 300 years an exact vengeance upon the descendants of his judges and executioners. Sure enough, the Baron returns come 1961, decidedly more monstrous. Using his dark magic to assume a normal appearance, he sets about rebuilding his life, and fulfilling his promise. Meanwhile, young lovers Rolando and Victoria, are trying to help an astronomer friend locate the meteor and, while searching for it after its mysterious disappearance, come across Baron Vitelius, who recognizes them from 300 years ago...

The Brainiac (aka El Baron del Terror) is a pretty entertaining flick, as you'd expect froma movie about a brain sucking space vampire, but the structure and plot hold it back. The plot is pretty threadbare, just showing the Baron hypnotising and murdering one of his targets (always a man and a women), before moving onto the next victims and doing the same, then moving onto the next ones, etc, interspersed with scenes of either the heroes or the police expressing confusion. This is tolerable seeing as how The Brainiac is just a basic B-Movie, but I still wish there was a little more to its story.

Other issues I had with the story were examples is missed potential, in a way. First up is the setting. The opening trial is as cruel and ludicrously prejudiced as you can imagine coming from the Spanish Inquisition, but then again, Baron Vitelious totally does have it coming, so I guess that's a stroke of luck. Given that unfair nature though, it really gets you looking forward to their punishments...buuut then the movie jumps forward 300 years, with Vitelius instead going after their very distant descendants, as he bizarrely promised to his executioners back in 1661. I dunno, that kinda takes the sting out of it, especially since two of the descendants are played by different actors (being of different genders). After 300 years, I doubt the ancestors would really care all that much what Vitelius would do, and he would do better to let go of his revenge and just use his vampiric magic to start up a business or something. Hell, he could even make friends with his would-be targets, as at least one of them is totally disgusted with the Spanish Inquisition's history. That would sure spite Votelius' executioners!

Another sadly unexplored avenue is how the lead's ancestor defended Baron Vitelius back in 1661. Why did that guy do that, and what was his relationship with the Baron? That could've also played more into the modern day, with the movie focusing more on the differences between ancestor and descendant, and delving further into Rolando choosing good unlike his predecessor, as opposed to being briefly mentioned when he defends Victoria, and nothing more.

Other problems with the story are a couple of ridiculously convenient moments, like when Rolando discovers the baron's terrifying brainy secret only through randomly deciding to bust open a cabinet, for no explained reason. Then he promptly stares at the brains for several seconds, only running to his girlfriend's aid once she starts screaming in terror. After a brief run around, the leads do nothing to defend themselves from the monster, and the situation is only resolved once the police just so happen to show up, with flamethrowers to boot! They thought Vitelius was just a human psychopath! Why the heckballs did they bring flamethrowers?! This culminates in an incredibly abrupt ending. The movie just suddenly stops once the villain is dead!

One last thing about the plot is how strange it is that despite the passage of 300 years, Vitelius' executioners each only have one descendant!

The Baron makes for an almost neat villain, but the movie underuses him, only letting him stare hypnotically and 'seductively', which admittedly is mildly intimidating. He barely talks, stares for uncomfortable lengths of time, and has all the charisma of a murderer, yet is able to make fast friends with his soon-to-be victims!

The effects on display in The Brainiac are pretty funny. The meteor comes in two effects-The first is when in the sky, as an obvious drawing, while the second is a laughable hunk of styrofoam that doesn't exactly look convincing as a meteor. The mask for the Baron's monster form is also chuckleworthy, but looks neat regardless. I like the way it pulsates. Doesn't help make the mask look more convincing, but it's still a neat touch.

The dub acting is pretty awful, with the actors delivering lines poorly, as well as off, resulting in weirdly structured sentences. As for the acting proper,it's hard to gauge. Everyone seems to do decent jobs, with Abel Salazar doing what he can as the villain. Famed local actor Germán Robles (well known nationally and abroad for The Vampire) also shows up for a small-ish role as one of the Baron's objects for revenge.

While not perfect, The Brainiac is still a fun watch, and a nice way to kill some time...

Samson vs. the Vampire Women

In 1960's Mexico, a local professor is gravely worried about his daughter, for she is prophesied to be a part of a chilling plan by a group of vampires to make her their new queen. Desperate for help, and unsure of whether the police will take him seriously, he goes to luchador El Santo for help. The silver-masked crusader for justice sets out to stop the vampires once and for all...

Allow me to point out the obvious...That is not Samson!

He's actually famous Mexican wrestler El Santo, played by himself. As well as being a cultural icon in the ring, he also had an extensive movie career, made up of fighting various threats, from monsters, to aliens. Not sure why they changed his name for the American release, and that seems a little disrespectful. Also, one would wonder why, of all the mythological figures for them to pick from, the American distributor (K. Gordon Murray) chose Samson, the one to whom hair is integral, while Santo on the other hand has none that we can see!

The plot to 'Samson' vs. the Vampire Women is pretty dull, and not particularly well-written. It feels like it stalls on the first plot point, and as a result, the movie feels stuck with not much to do until Santo finally comes across the vampires' hideout. The bad pacing is no help either. It really wasn't necessary for the vampires awakening to take up the first 13 straight minutes! Also, it takes Santo 26 minutes to show up! That leads into a bigger problem-The titular hero really doesn't appear much in the film at all! He takes all that time to appear, then vanishes for large swaths of the movie. He's a pretty uninteresting protagonist, too, for which I blame the script rather than Santo himself. The character then goes into full on psychopath mode against the lady vamps at the end, which doesn't exactly endear him to the viewer, but does make for a really cool shot!

The rest of the characters aren't particularly bright either. The professor's daughter Diana is getting married (at age 20?!), and here's a choice line of dialogue from her fiancee-"Pretty soon you'll be using my name, and I'll be giving the orders around the house", he says with a laugh. When can the vampires kill him, please? Her father isn't much of a prize either, seeing as how he deliberately keeps his terrified daughter in the dark about what's going on, for no reason, instead treating her like a hysterical child. The villains are a dull bunch, and irritatingly, about 40 minutes in, the vampire queen is awakened and she takes centre stage as the lead villain, even though Tundra the priestesss had been set up as the antagonist. At least it's mildly amusing how each level of the vampire hierarchy tells their underlings to "Not fail again or die", and so on, so on.

More problems with the story include a deus ex machina scroll of the professor's that describes modern names and addresses perfectly despite being thousands of years old, and is further translated whenever narratively convenient, ensuring that the lead doesn't actually find out where the vampires are hiding  based on his own skills. On that note, Santo is also only saved in the climax due to a conveniently timed coincidence!

Being a luchador-vehicle, there's of course plenty of lucha libre on display here. I kinda zoned out during those bits, given my disinterest in wrestling. The second match we see is more interesting though, partially because it's actually related to the plot, and with only two characters, both distinctive due to their masks, rather than four to keep track of, most unmasked. Even so, this second match still starts to drag after a while. The big problem with these scenes is that they kinda highlight how a wrestler isn't really up to fighting supernatural monsters when he has trouble facing off against fellow luchadors in the ring!

Samson vs. the Vampire Women is probably most well-known in the States for its appearance on Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Given the long stretches of time with not much happening, I don't know how this could make for a good episode of MST3K, but I suppose they did a little snipping to make it go faster, and be more accommodating for riffs.

The acting all seems pretty uninteresting. Yeah, it is dubbed, which of course sucks, but even so I don't think these actors did that great a job in the first place. As for Santo, I'm not sure though, seeing as how his face is completely covered by a mask, so I can't judge his acting performance at all! As for the fight choreography, it's pretty decent.

The effects here range from laughable (like the cardboard flying bats), to decent enough (the fangs, the monster make-up, the fiery deaths). There's also some neat direction here and there.

Santo vs. las Mujeres Vampiro isn't a very good example of either Mexican horror cinema, lucha libre adventures, or even a vampire movie. It's not all bad. but all in all just plain dull. I'm sure it makes for a great episode of MST3K though!...

El Imperio de Dracula

Weeeell I've watched two Mexican movies so far that were dubbed into English, so the least I can do is watch one in its native Spanish, without subtitles (not by choice, mind you), even if I don't understand the language.

In 1800's era Mexico, a slain vampire, Baron Draculsten, returns to life and waits in his stolen villa, waiting for its true owners-a brother and his two sisters-to arrive. Unaware of the lurking dangers, the siblings relax in their new home, until they realize the terror that surrounds them...

El Imperio de Dracula opens with a showdown between the titular-ish antagonist, and some pudgy middle-aged guy he's chasing. At first I figured the dude would be killed fairly quickly, as the movie's first victim, but as the scene kept going, so did he, always getting the upper hand! It got to the point where I was actually rooting for the guy to win, because if he's putting up this much of a fight for a seemingly random would-be victim, he frankly deserves too! And then, surprisingly, he does! Wow, this was a short movie. Dracula died only 8 minutes in!

Following that, he's of course brought back to life, by a faithful servant. At first I figured 'Maybe he was just short of blood earlier, and thus in a weakened state. Maybe when he's replenished, he'll put up more of a fight', but then he later loses to a guy who was just in a carriage crash, so Draculsten's success rate isn't exactly the greatest! As the movie progresses, he continues to show himself as quite the weakling, which makes him an unintimidating villain! Each fight this vamp gets in, he soundly gets his ass kicked by mere mortals, who are unarmed no less!

For the most part, I can hardly judge this movie's script, seeing as I didn't actually understand it. Something I can take issue with involving the story though is the villain's resurrection early on, by having blood poured over his 'remains'. That didn't make sense in Being Human, and it certainly doesn't here! Dead vampires being resurrected by removing the stake from their hearts is stupid enough, but if they're already dust, I don't think there's much recovery to be made from such an inauspicious position!

Further logical hiccups include a scene where a horse drawn carriage crashes (don't worry, the horsies are fine!), and burst into flames! As it turns out, 2004's Van Helsing wasn't the first vampire movie to pull that insanity!

At first I was under the impression that the villain's name was literally Draculstein (thanks to some reviews online, as well as IMDb), but it's not. We see a couple of written examples in the movie, and it's not spelt with an 'i'. That's kind of a shame given the laugh value of Draculstein, but on the other hand, the movie is able to be taken more seriously without it.

Onto the film's atmosphere. It's pretty refreshing seeing a Mexican Gothic film! Also, more often than not, in so many old westerns, the only Mexican characters you'd see were simple 'primitive' townsfolk in ramshackle old villages. Here though, they're nothing like that, being more varied, and less stereotypical, as you'd expect.

Unfortunately El Imperio de Dracula is pretty slow. Its pace is quick enough that I didn't realize 45 minutes had passed already, but the story's slow enough that I was thinking on how little had actually happened in 45 whole minutes, of an 81 minute long film. That's my biggest problem. I wish there was more plot here!...And yes, I know that's an odd complaint when I couldn't understand the plot I was given anyway...

One part I didn't get is the hilariously lax security the leads tale despite the attacks from vampires they know full well are still in the residence, leading to the girls being recaptured by Draculsten once again!

For the most part, El Imperio de Dracula is pretty easy-ish to follow unsubtitled, though the lack of understandable dialogue can be tiresome, so finding a subtitled DVD if there is such thing, or learning Spanish are the way to go. By the way, it's amusing how a lack of subtitles on a foreign movie can change the plot for the viewer. With the group of couples we see about 20 minutes in, I was under the impression they were meeting with the previously couple who met with a violent end, and after coming across the abandoned carriage, they go to look at the villa, calling for Maria, the woman. I was wondering why they were only calling for her, and not the guy she was with. Then they find Maria, who's now a maid, and looks nothing like the woman we saw before. Huh? 'Maybe she's under a vampiric curse making her look prematurely aged?' I thought? Or maybe, Chris, you moron, Maria was always a completely different character! It took me a while to realize that the first couple was unrelated, and this other party came to the castle because it's theirs, and Maria is the maid working there, hence their calling for her.

One last thing to note about the plot is the title. Even without subtitles, I could still tell there was no such empire.

The acting is quite decent, mediocre at worst. Eric del Castillo plays the vampiric baddie, and physically does a fine job, but has very little to work with. Also, at first I thought he looked too young, but as the movie went on, he looked fine, and I was just mistaken. One heck of a compliment for the dude, I'm sure, seeing as how he was 37 at the time! Speaking of his age, that leads to a nice little touch on Baron Draculsten's crypt headstone

The effects are a mixed bag. The modelwork, locale, and how the two blend together as well are all really good, and help make the movie look more expensive than it actually is. Also worthy of praise are the scenes involving horseback/carriage fights, which are impressively done! The swordfight near the climax is pretty laughably choreographed, though. That scene is also made amusing by how the brother is busy fighting the Baron, and his two sisters aren't helping at all! Granted, Draculstein puts up such a paltry fight that the brother doesn't really need any assistance. The old-age makeup an actress clearly in her 30's isn't that great either (unless it turns out I'm totally wrong, and that's really an older actress, in which case SORRY!). Finally, the vampire resurrection/death effects look neat, even if they're both obviously the same, but one's in reverse.

The score isn't anything special, but it's decent. What I especially liked were the moments   which early on built up an atmosphere of desolation. I also dug the pipe bashing (best way I can describe it) sounds on the soundtrack, though it can get a bit overused.

The Empire of Dracula isn't all that great a movie. It has it's faults, but upsides too, however, and it's still worth a watch for vampire aficionados who are curious to see how other countries handle them. And it's also a pretty uncommon example of Mexican Gothic, too, so that's worth a lot!...


Unfortunately the movies I've looked at for this year's Vampire Soiree weren't exactly the pinnacle of good Mexican cinema, but they're far from bad examples to look at, because they at least do show just how creative Mexican cinema could be, even when not at its best. Happy Valentine's Day, and may your day be filled with vampires, or not, given your preferences to potentially being killed by creatures of the night!...

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Not This Time, Nayland Smith!

As the title says, a merry Christmas and happy holidays to you all, and thanks for reading! I hope your holidays are all fantastic!

Mine were pretty good, with many super neat presents received, including a lot of classic horror (mainly Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee material), the complete series of Bewitched (YES!), Watchmen (which is great, because it's always something I've been keen enough on to consider reading, but not enough to ever actually bother buying it, so it was a perfect thing to receive as an Xmas gift), and the coffin box-set for Elvira's Movie Macabre (which is a lot smaller than expected, and has a pretty crappy idea of disc storage, but is otherwise great!), among other things.

I'll leave with the note that Laverne and Shirley and Grease 2 are important things to have on one's mind on Christmas Day, or any day for that matter! I'm sure you'll agree...

The 12 Days of Regis Toomey: Wrap-Up

A Very Regis Toomey Christmas: The Phantom Creeps (1939)

The 12 Days of Regis Toomey: Dark Mountain (1944)

Park ranger Don Bradley has just been promoted after an act of selfless bravery during a wildfire, and is prepared to propose to his old ladyfriend Kay. However, it turns out that he's too late, and she's already married. Whoops! Don seems positively square-riffic when compared with Steve, but it soon becomes apparent that Kay's husband is hiding a dark secret-He's really a murderous smuggler. Kay finds this out just before a deal goes sour, and Steve kills several people, then going into hiding, dragging Kay along with him. She breaks away and goes to Don for help, as the authorities believe her to be complicit in Steve's crimes, so he sets her up in an isolated cabin up in the mountains. Steve finds her though, and it's up to Don to rescue Kay in time, if he can...

Dark Mountain is simply ok. It's an unremarkable film that does nothing but kill an hour. The story is just there.

Making the movie worse is the the leads are a couple of dopes. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the scene where Don visits Kay at the cabin after Steve has found her. While the ranger is over, Steve is hidden in the bedroom, and at no point does Kay wink, or signal to her beau 'My psycho murderer husband is in the next room! SEND HELP!'. Later on, after a few days have passed, she still hasn't told Don, and he still hasn't caught on. "You're eating enough for two people!" He says in a befuddled tone, the possibility that there is a second person in the cabin completely eluding his 'keen senses'. Following that, Don notices a shoeprint, but figures that since it's a man's shoe, it must be his, and happily goes on with his day. Later on, when Don's talking with his pal Willie, he's saying he's beginning to suspect that Steve is at the cabin-A conclusion he's arrived to due to several little things coming together. He then proceeds to list off half a dozen HUGE red flags! Little things my ass!

The acting is all ok. The two leads are decent, while Regis Toomey is quite good as the dastardly antagonist! Quite a different role for Reeg, as he's playing a villain, as opposed to a cop or G-Man. Despite not being the main character, he probably gets more screentime than Robert Lowery. Yep, the people behind this movie definitely knew who the audience really wanted to see more of!

There's also a surprisingly young Elisha Cook Jr. here, but the movie kills him just over 20 minutes in! NO, movie! BAD, movie!

Also present is Eddie Quillan, who I mistook for Joey Forman at first, before I realized the age discrepancy. I didn't much care for Quillan's performance in parts, and neither does his adorable pet dog!* Besides annoying moments like that though, he's decent. He also gets the worst/best line of the movie, in "Ain't it the cats?", used to describe something great.

*The dog understands the rules of checkers, by the way. He is amazing.

One last thing. May I say that I LOVE this font? I've seen it in countless movies, including a good chunk of what I've been looking at for this marathon. I wish movies nowadays had as much personality as older ones, rather than just have a dull wall of white text over black nothing, for around 10 minutes. There's something so much better about end credits that actually have an end, and look more interesting than just boring black.

Dark Mountain wasn't a very entertaining watch. The script as it is doesn't really have enough story to justify being a feature length film. With that in mind, it's actually really good that it's only 56 minutes long, but it's still lacking in some respects, and is ultimately just ok...

The 12 Days of Regis Toomey: Bullet Scars (1942)

It sure took a while, but we're finally  out of the 1930's and into the 40's, with Bullet Scars! Though not for long, as only this and the following review are of films from this decade...

A gang of hardened criminals robs a bank, but one of them is shot, badly injured. After one failed attempt at forcing a doctor to save their friend Joe (ending in the innocent man's death after he tried to call the police), the gang hide out in the country while a manhunt ensues, and they enlist the help of Dr. Steven. They tell him that their friend was simply injured in a hunting accident, and they get him to help with offers of extravagant pay. With the help of Joe's nurse sister Nora, Dr. Steven tries his best to save the man's life, and while he seems to be starting to recover, that's short lived. Meanwhile, as things g on, Steven realizes the truth of what's happening. As Joe's health begins to fail, the two unwilling surgeon's have to work out what they're going to do to get out of this terrible situation...

Not much to discuss with Bullet Scars. It's just a simple little crime flick, under an hour, and over and done with before you can blink.

While everything preceding it is akin to dishwater, the ending is absolutely redonkulous! There's a huge amount of cops, and the bare handful of crooks manage to put up quite a fight, lasting well into the night, and withstanding tear gas (which the writer took too literally)! All without ever reloading, or running out of ammo, too! Then, after several minutes worth of movie of this, the cops decide to flush the gang out by lighting a truck on fire and driving it into the farm, where it explodes! Didn't know the police were allowed to do that! Jeez, Detective Carter in Rush Hour would be surprised at how crazy these guys are acting! Following that, when that attempt at 'flushing the gang out' SOMEHOW killed them all, Steven and Nora grin, have a laugh with the police commissioner, then abruptly leave, saying "Come on, let's get out of here", in a chipper tone. Don't try and act too shocked, you two! Also, I'm pretty sure the police will want a few words with you! As will a psychiatrist!

The dialogue is all pretty meh, though one line had me laughing,-"Stay away from dames, and you stay away from trouble.". Don't worry, it's said by one of the villains.

The characters aren't much to speak of. Dr. Steven loses points when right after finding out that there are wanted bank robbers in the area, who fit the bill perfectly with the incredibly suspicious people hanging around who refuse to let him leave their hideout alone, Nora tries to warn him away, saying there's danger, and he glibly ignores her! The chump is all "Now you've got me so curious, I couldn't leave if I wanted to.". Once he finally does figure out what's going on, and after things start going wrong, he gets disturbingly trigger-happy in the climax for a doctor!

The gangsters all blend together, and I'm still not sure if there are 4 of them, or 8, or 6, or 9, or what! I wasn't a fan of the annoying comic relief gangster who won't shut up about vitamins, though I did like how that played into the conclusion, even if in a marginally stupider way than I was expecting*.

*I assumed Steven would be manipulating the crooks into getting a prescription of sleeping pills, which he'd then use on them. Instead, however, he writes a secret message on the scrip, hoping the the pharmacist can read fluent Latin!

The acting here is all decent, with Regis Toomey delivering a fine performance. The acting just before the climax is really rushed though, as if there was only a certain amount of film or time left, and the director had the actors hurry through their dialogue. One final thing to note is the appearance by the interesting Hobart Bosworth.

One last thing: Jesus, were men in the 30's and 40's born with fedoras attached to their heads?!

Bullet Scars is mostly a dull film, but damn all if the insane ending didn't give me plenty to talk about! I still don't much recommend it, but it's not too bad...