Monday, April 23, 2018

Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein / Dracula contra Frankenstein (1972)

Jess Franco had already covered Dracula by directing a movie adaption of Bram Stoker’s seminal Gothic horror vampire novel from 1897 a couple years prior. So, what does Jess do next when returning to make another Gothic Count Dracula movie?... Take the Universal route and throw Dracula in with other classic monster figures, like Frankenstein and The Wolfman, to have a go at it and see who would win in a fight.

With Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein, the familiar monster mashup style gets the Jess Franco treatment, which is essentially Classic Universal horror in color with Franco’s flavor of visual and hypnotic storytelling, yet for a Jess Franco film, the eroticism is quite tame, with no nudity to be found. It adapts certain elements from Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the Dracula angle, but the Frankenstein angle borrows more from Franco’s own The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962) and less from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Curiously, the opening text, credited to David H Klunne (a Franco pseudonym), is pretty much a poetic and short synopsis of the film, rather than some sort of backstory setup to get viewers up to date, like an opening Star Wars crawl. That’s OK, because there isn’t really a whole lot to spoil, since the experience of the film, in this case, is a little more important than the story, which I think isn’t necessarily hard to follow, but it doesn’t really sink in either, since there's a lot of visual depth, atmosphere, and cool ideas in what is a slow and thin plot.


Anne Libert has a small role as Dracula’s victim in the opening grabber. If you felt she was underutilized in this Jess Franco Dracula movie, you’ll be much happier with Daughter of Dracula (1972), filmed back-to-back with this one.

One of my most prominent memories of this movie is that of the heavily used visual of Dracula’s foggy castle on a precipice, the Santa Bárbara Castle in Alicante, Spain. It’s such a beautiful but gloomy shot that Franco really makes the most of, perhaps even to the point of it being a little overused.

The classic horror style soundtrack is fitting and sets the right mood. It’s credited to Bruno Nicolai and Daniel White (who is also cast) and most of it was previously used in Jess Franco’s Justine (1969) and Count Dracula (1970).


Alberto Dalbés plays Doctor John Seward (he also played Seward in Franco’s Erotic Rites of Frankenstein (1973)), who is the same from the book, but he’s also a pretty clever consolidation of Jonathan Harker and Van Helsing as well. The Condes de Castro Guimarães Museum in Portugal (a marvelous piece of architecture also seen in other Franco films such as A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973)) poses as Dr. Seward’s sanitarium, which houses a mental patient, Maria (Paca Gabaldón), who’s essentially a female Renfield, painting the walls and blissfully singing to herself. She has a psychological connection to Dracula (Howard Vernon) and usually throws a panic whenever Dracula is active or nearby to menace her.


When Dr. Seward travels to Dracula’s (poorly guarded) castle, it feels a little sudden. Since he’s also Van Helsing, he is already knowledgeable about vampires and Dracula. When Seward examines Anne Libert’s character, deceased after being assaulted by Dracula, he thrust a stake into her eye, presumably to keep her from turning undead and kidnapping children, Lucy (bloofer lady) Westenra style, which causes the lights to go out, telling him all he needs to know. He then sets out with his horse and carriage to the castle on the hill to kill Dracula. When Seward finds Dracula’s coffin and stakes him, I thought the scene had a peculiar calming effect to it, since Seward was rather delicate about it, tapping the stake rather gently, generating a soft tapping echo, as opposed to the intense staking moments you see in other vampire movies.


With Dracula being defeated, a gypsy community nearby seems to be celebrating in ritual, but the leader, Amira (Geneviève Robert, who would later go on to become a director and marry Ivan Reitman), a kind of seer, is able to see the coming of Frankenstein (Dennis Price). These scenes with the gypsy community are frequently accompanied by humming voices in choir, which makes it seem like they’re always in chant (always humming their jam). Amira usually looks mesmerized, conducting esoteric rituals, drawing runes in the sand and predicting the direction of the story. Robert is quite intense in this role and is probably my favorite character.

Just as Amira foresees, Dr. Frankenstein arrives and sets up his lab in Dracula’s castle, because apparently in this universe, you can just claim any old castle as your own to setup shop and begin work on your plans to take over the world. Dr. Frankenstein has a vague objective to enroll invincible monsters into his “army of shadows” in order to overpower the world.


Luis Barboo is amusing as Morpho, Frankenstein’s brute and hulky assistant, who almost seems to be chewing the scenery, with some real cartoony facial expressions. Morpho drives Frankenstein around in a new looking car, contradicting the Victorian feel of the film up until this point, especially considering that Seward travels by horse and carriage. There’s also a jukebox visible at the pub. Plus, the people attending the stupendous burlesque show scene, with Estela (Josyane Gibert) who scintillates with a playfully sexy song and dance performance, seem to come from a different era too. I consider this one of the film’s charms, whether Jess intended for it or just didn’t think it mattered.

Frankenstein’s monster in this (Fernando Bilbao, who also played the Frankenstein monster in Erotic Rites of Frankenstein) moves and looks like a generic Frankenstein monster (not bad for the budget) but acts more like Morpho from The Awful Dr. Orlof, since the monster kidnaps beautiful female dancers, Estela in this case, for Frankenstein to operate on for Dracula’s revival, in what I feel is part of a tiresome trope of sex-workers always being murdered. 


Howard Vernon’s Dracula in this is unusual but works. He’s quite lethargic, which is deliberate, since he is Frankenstein’s prisoner, but the threat is still there, like an evil, unblinking, static corpse that’s dangerous if you get too close. Vernon is imposing and freaky without having to hardly move or speak a word (although it seems a little funny, in a cool way, at one point when he's sitting in the back of Frankenstein’s car looking like a still Halloween prop). After he sucks someone’s blood in one scene he looks like he’s wearing a lush shade of red lipstick, and it looks fabulous!


Livening up Dracula’s castle/Frankenstein’s lab a bit is the stunning and statuesque Britt Nichols as a lurking vampire who likes to come out and play sometimes (like Liebert, Nichols is more of a main character in the next film Daughter of Dracula). I’m assuming she’s Dracula’s bride, since her coffin is close to his. The times she emerges from her coffin are definitely memorable highlights. I like the way Nichols’ vampire is overlooked for a time by most at the castle. Since her beau, Dracula, is under Frankenstein’s control, she slips by unnoticed, lurking around and even getting the drop on Morpho.


Rounding out the monster mashup, el hombre lobo (sadly not played by Paul Naschy- he’s instead played by a stuntman known as Brandy, who is still cool) makes an entrance real late in the game, summoned by the gypsies to fuck shit up at the evil castle, or more specifically to aid Dr. Seward in the final bloody battle. The werewolf is cool and all, and he’s foreshadowed a bit earlier in the film, but he’s tossed in the mix without much backstory; I would’ve liked to have known his human side before he turns. It is probably one of the only werewolves I can think of who’s human side isn’t explored.  

Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein is a movie I usually crave around Halloween. It’s special to me, but at the same time I can see how others might view it as nothing special. Franco is heavy on the zooming (although I feel I’m immune to the zoom shot at this point for some reason). For a while, I didn’t catch on at just how minimal the dialogue is, with most of the story told through sequences, sound, and images, so if you’re not in the mood for something real talky that you have to pay attention to, this may be something you can really relax to. It is fun the few times the monsters go at it, but the story is a little flimsy and may fail to hold the interest of anyone who isn’t feeling the gothic Franco vibes. 

© At the Mansion of Madness


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

School of Fear / Il gioko (1989)

‘80s Italian horror TV movies aren’t always the most memorable and have a tendency to be a little underwhelming in comparison to the classic gialli and Eurohorror films from the ‘60s and ‘70s golden era. By the late ‘80s, we were at, or were even beyond, the tail end of the horror boom, with many Italian directors making movies more for television. Lamberto Bava directed a lot of TV movies throughout his career. His ‘80s horror TV movies paid a lot of homage to the classic gialli and horror films that sculpted the genre like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), Inferno (1980), House by the Cemetery (1981), his father’s Black Sunday (1960), and even his own Demons (1985). A lot of times his TV films could be a little mediocre and almost feel like near-pointless rehashes, like Demons 3: The Ogre (1988), but Lamberto Bava also had a tendency to catch you by surprise with TV movies like Demons 5: The Devil’s Veil (1989), the hilarious and ‘80s satirical Dinner with a Vampire (1989), and the (previously) hard-to-find School of Fear.

Aside from being an interesting take on the evil kid trope, School of Fear / Il gioko does present a lot to chew on, and like Demons 5: The Devil’s Veil and Macabre (1980) is a little more of what I prefer from director Lamberto Bava. Don’t get me wrong, Demons and A Blade in the Dark (1983) are awesome too, but I honestly lamented for a time that we never really got something as twisted, different, and well-made as Macabre. It’s still no Macabre, but School of Fear feels a little more in the right direction towards something twisted and different.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Count Dracula's Great Love / El gran amor del Conde Dracula (1973)

Paul Naschy had a lot of success in a wide range of film genres, playing an even wider range of characters, but he is mostly remembered for his brand of gritty and beautiful Spanish gothic horror films. These movies had their low budget and pacing issues, but there was still something so attractive about them, with a reverence for the classic monsters, most especially the wolfman, and the inclusion of plenty of female vampires and femme fatales in general. Plus, with his charisma and sincerity to the material, it’s always a joy just seeing Naschy; whenever he makes an entrance in these movies, he causes viewers’ eyes to light up like they’re seeing a dear old friend. For me, it was always interesting to see what a zombie movie, or a mummy movie, or a cannibal movie, or even a giallo would be like after getting the Paul Naschy treatment.

It was my tendency to read other people’s takes on Paul Naschy movies, be they positive or negative, that inspired me to eventually take up the quill to see if I’d have anything interesting to contribute as a genre film blogger.

With Count Dracula’s Great Love, a costume horror drama with a satiable amount of violence and eroticism that according to Naschy in his memoirs was a critic and box office success, we have one of my favorite classic monsters done by one of my favorite filmmakers. It was directed by Javier Aguirre (Hunchback of the Morgue) but was written by Paul Naschy who also stars as Dr. Wendell Marlow and (forgive the spoiler) Count Dracula. I believe it is also the first in a short but notable line of horror films with Naschy and actor Victor Barrera (sometimes credited as Vic Winner or Victor Alcazar); the other three Naschy movies with Barrera are Hunchback of the Morgue (1973), Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973), and Vengeance of the Zombies (1973).

Monday, November 13, 2017

Lips of Blood / Lèvres de sang (1975)

With his first four full length films, between 1968 to 1971, Jean Rollin forged his own brand of erotic and poetic vampirism. The one of a kind auteur painted over the ‘in vogue’ gothic horror tropes, changed up the rules, and gave his vampires reign over dark and melancholic vistas far removed from the familiar world. The experience ends up being fantastically vampiric while also seeming at odds with the classic notion of a vampire movie.
  
Rollin would shed his brand of tragic vampire lore for a time to experiment with new dark takes on death (The Iron Rose (1973)), adventure, and revenge (The Demoniacs (1974)). To compensate for box office failures, and in order to have steady work between more personal projects, Rollin also directed several porn films under a different name (Michel Gentil).

In 1975, Rollin returned to vampires with the exceptional Lips of Blood, which also ended up being a commercial failure, and so to try and bring in money, Lips of Blood was reformatted with new hardcore pornographic inserts and transformed into the more exploitative movie Suce moi vampire (1976). For me, the existence of Suce moi vampire undermines the significance and spirit of Lips of Blood, and, kind of similar to my feelings on House of Exorcism (1975) (the reworking of Bava’s masterpiece Lisa and the Devil (1973)), I don’t have much interest in seeking it out.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Terror Creatures from the Grave / 5 tombe per un medium (1965)

The onset of the Halloween season this year has really put me on a black-and-white horror kick for some reason. I’m looking forward to checking out some classics I haven’t seen yet, such as City of the Dead (1960) and Eyes Without a Face (1960), and revisiting some favorites like Carnival of Souls (1962) and Night of the Living Dead (1968).

I used to approach black-and-white movies apprehensively, thinking that they would likely be a boring chore to sit through. I missed out on discovering a lot of classics when I was younger with this mindset, a mindset that surprises me considering that I had always been able to enjoy black-and-white TV-shows as a kid like Lassie and The Three Stooges, which happened to give me the false perception that the world must’ve been in black-and-white back then. I had always preferred color, but nowadays I really have no preference. There’s something both oppressive and romantic about black-and-white cinematography, a separate experience with its own charm that I don’t think is inferior to color cinematography. What finally gave me a taste for black-and-white film and caused me to not see it as a diminished experience due to technological limitation was Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960), which also turned my interest to the black-and-white Italian horrors of the ‘60s that I probably would’ve had no interest in otherwise.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Fruit of Paradise / Ovoce stromů rajských jíme (1970)

After realizing film was her true calling, the first lady of Czech cinema Věra Chytilová enrolled in the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU) in 1957. At the time, she was the only woman at the school and was faced with resistance. She was pushed back, but she wanted to direct and had ambitions to make different kinds of movies. Chytilová recalls potentially upsetting the directors at the academy when she told them the reason she wanted to study was because she didn’t like the films they made, feeling that they were predictable and arranged. When the Academy wanted to throw her out, it was a major blow for her that resulted in depression and a suicide attempt. She ultimately resisted being driven out and graduated, in the process directing successful medium length films Ceiling (1961) (of which she also wrote) and A Bagful of Fleas (1962). A Bagful of Fleas and her first feature length film as director Something Different (1963) both won film critics awards.
  
Chytilová married cinematographer Jaroslav Kucera (Morgiana 1972); they worked well together and collaborated on The Restaurant the World (1965), Daisies (1966), and Fruit of Paradise (1970).
  
Daisies is Chytilová’s most popular and well-known film. It is a staple in the Czech New Wave movement that’s a fun, technically impressive film with an unconventional narrative about two young, disorderly female leads sticking-it-to-the-man, with copious amounts of style and entertainment ensuing. The movie is supposed to be a cautionary tale on the consequences of destructive behavior, but for me, it’s one of those films you fall in love with and get hooked on.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Mania (1974)

When it comes to the unique definitive Renato Polselli experience of histrionics, eroticism, violence, and sadomasochism, movies like Delirium (1972), The Reincarnation of Isabel (1972), and even The Truth According to Satan (1972) are the best examples of Polselli films that have created a small but loyal fanbase. These have long been some of my favorite cult films, but I also adore the romantic black and white early Italian horror efforts from Polselli The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960) and The Monster of The Opera (1964). The seed for this auteur’s characteristic style of madness and set spectacles was planted in Monster of the Opera, the film itself still planted in the fun dance-meets-classic-monsters gimmick featured in Vampire and the Ballerina, but something wildly unhinged was taking shape. The entertaining delirium, screaming mad characters, and disorienting editing that is Polselli’s signature would essentially be fully realized in Delirium and Reincarnation, but for the longest time there was a missing piece of the filmography that Polselli fans were literally deprived of for many, many years, a once lost film called Mania.

Sanitized by the censors and given a limited theatrical run in 1974, Mania quickly disappeared and was long considered lost until a 35-mm print surfaced in 2007 in a film archive in Rome, Cinema Trevi – Cineteca Nazionale. It was going to be released on DVD by No Shame soon after, but they went out of business before that could happen. Miraculously a crude version of Mania showed up on YouTube without English subtitles back in September of last year. Thankfully, just recently, Terence linked me to a decent version with subs (which is also now on YouTube), and I honestly now feel like a significant void in my life has been filled.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Byleth – Il demone dell’incesto (1972)

I’m not much in to demonology; I only remember a couple names of demonic entities off the top of my head, like Beelzebub, Belial, and Astaroth, but I had only heard about the demon Byleth in reference to the Italian horror film Byleth – The Demon of Incest (1972), and with the title to go off of, I pretty much thought of Byleth as some sort of ghastly, incest inducing demon. I tried to look in to it a little, but other than this film, I found very little relating Byleth to incest. The connection of the theme of incest to Byleth in this film is perhaps more in reference to the belief that the demonically possessed display sexually deviant behavior. 

As far as lore goes, the demon Byleth (sometimes spelled Beleth or Bilet) is a monarch of Hell and a fallen angel. He rides a pale horse and commands eighty-five legions of demons. The sounds of trumpets and melodies precedes his presence when he is conjured. His pale horse suggests he could possibly be one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Death.

When summoned, Byleth will test the courage and worthiness of the conjuror by appearing most intimidating, frightful, and extremely pissed off, and if they are too inexperienced and unprepared, the ritual will likely result in the conjuror’s death (although it’s said that Byleth can be softened with a bottle of wine). If through all manner of advanced esoteric ritual, they manage to subdue Byleth, he reveals his true form, which is supposed to be that of a beautiful young girl who has the power to make someone fall in love, kind of like a love genie.

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