?

Log in

Previous Entry | Next Entry

21. and 22. Christopher Lee Twopher

I've also recently chalked up two further entries in the series 'Other Gothic Horrors Starring Christopher Lee Which I Haven't Seen, And Which Ideally Feature Him Playing A Character As Similar To Dracula As Possible, And / Or Also Star Peter Cushing And / Or Vincent Price'.

21. Castle of the Living Dead / Il castello dei morti vivi (1964), dir. Warren Kiefer and Luciano Ricci

This is one of Lee's many European films, shot in Italy, but with the dialogue in English and Lee speaking his own lines (though they are studio-dubbed rather than recorded on-set). It is also notable for being the screen début of Donald Sutherland, who reportedly named his son Kiefer as a tribute to the director, while a young Michael Reeves (of later The Sorcerors and Witchfinder General fame) may have been responsible for some of the camera-work - it depends which of the conflicting accounts of those involved you choose to believe.

It is basically a mash-up / rip-off of a zillion-and-one horror clichés, with some of the most prominent being as follows:
  • Dracula - Lee plays a weird and reclusive aristocrat called Count Drago who lives in a huge castle around which no birds sing, lures people there on false pretences and turns out to have murderous and (in the case of a young and attractive woman) fatally romantic designs on them. His first line, spoken to announce himself upon entering unseen into a room where his guests have been discussing what the owner of the castle might be like, is 'Count Drago; welcome to my home', and he later claims that he doesn't drink.
  • Psycho - his castle is full of what appear to be stuffed birds and animals, though it later turns out that they have in fact been frozen in perpetual suspended animation by a serum which he has invented.
  • Frankenstein - he has been using science (of the bubbling-flasks variety) in an attempt to unlock the secrets of death.
  • Macbeth - a witch makes prophecies in rhyming couplets.
  • Edgar Allan Poe stories generally - Drago's wife is perpetually suspended in the act of looking at herself in a mirror in a cobwebby bed in a room upstairs in the castle. He talks to her as though she is still alive, apologising for the way his current guests are disturbing her.
  • The Masque of the Red Death specifically - I'm not sure how direct the relationship can be here, since the Roger Corman film was released on 24th June 1964 and this was released on 5th August 1964, but in this film too the castle functions as a protective bastion against a chaotic world outside, and a likeable performing dwarf manages to get one over on the baddy. Both of those elements exist in separate Edgar Allan Poe stories anyway ('The Masque of the Red Death' and 'Hop-Frog'), but they were only brought together for the first time by Corman, and I don't think this film was working directly from literary sources.
  • House of Wax - what initially appear to be extremely lifelike figurines turn out to be real people frozen by Count Drago's serum; Count Drago dies at the end as a result of his own serum.
So, yeah, not super-original, but it is lots of fun spotting all the different sources of the story and the ways in which they have been adapted and combined, just as it often is with Doctor Who stories which do the same thing. Plus there is a stylish look to the film as a whole, helped enormously by the Italian locations used - the 'Parco dei Mostri' at Bomarzo, which is packed full of gigantic monstrous sculptures, and the Castello Orsini-Odescalchi in Bracciano. As for Christopher Lee, he is absolutely perfect in the role, as you would expect given how hard it draws on what had become his 'type' by this time - menacing, aloof, icily polite, given to unnerving bursts of unexpected passion or mania, and generally everything I was hoping for when I rented this film. Bang on the money and I'm glad I saw it.

22. Theatre of Death (1967), dir. Samuel Gallu

This one it turned out I actually had seen before, but only once and a long time ago, so it didn't really matter as I could hardly remember any of it. This time, I watched it with the lovely ms_siobhan for one of our regular horror film get-togethers, and we had lots of fun picking it apart as we watched.

It is basically supposed to be a murder-mystery story, with a Gothic feel and plenty of hints towards the supernatural as a way of building suspense and ambiguity, but nothing actually supernatural in it in the end. Most of the characters are the cast or crew of a Grand Guignol theatre, and this too is used to raise questions about what is 'real' and what is play-acting, and to explore the psychology of the uncertain boundaries between the two. The plot is full of red herrings, and Christopher Lee's character is perhaps the biggest red herring of all. As in Castle of the Living Dead, he is knowingly used as a horror genre star, and characterised as nasty and controlling, so that we can be mis-directed towards assuming that he is the murderer. Even when he goes missing, for a long time we are kept in suspense about what has happened to him, and allowed to believe that he might still be perpetrating the murders. But in the end it turns out that he is not the murderer at all, and has fallen victim to the true villain just like a whole string of other characters.

That probably makes it all sound quite good, but unfortunately it isn't really. The main problem is that when you present a plot full of mis-direction which encourages the audience to examine its twists and turns carefully and to build up guesses based on what they have seen, you need to make sure that that plot is really tight, because it is going to have to stand up to some pretty solid scrutiny. Unfortunately, this one does not. Even once the true solution was revealed, there were all sorts of loose ends left untied and character moments which didn't make sense. For example, Lee's character, who is the director of the theatre, treats one of his two main female leads appallingly. This obviously serves the purpose of building him up as a red herring for the murderer, but it doesn't make much sense as the plausible actions of a man in his position, since all it really does is drive her so close to madness that she is no longer capable of acting for him. Then there are all sorts of back-stories and sub-plots which don't really go anywhere - like a former police surgeon who can no longer work due to a hand injury, which is repeatedly emphasised but never has any plot pay-off whatsoever.

So, basically, the experience of watching it is a bit like having half a ton of red herrings dumped directly onto your head, finally shaking them off and being presented with a single non-red herring which you are told is the 'solution', but not really being able to spot any discernible difference between that and all the fake herrings lying gasping and flopping on the floor around you. Still, as ever, an afternoon of rolling my eyes at it with ms_siobhan was marvellous fun - and hopefully now that I've written it up here for future reference, I will remember this time not to bother watching it again.

Click here if you would like view this entry in light text on a dark background.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
ms_siobhan
Jul. 20th, 2014 08:38 pm (UTC)
Theatre of Death was a load of old nonsense but some of the womens outfits were lovely and the main female character (whose name and actress escapes me) was really well played. It was also interesting from a mental health portrayal point of view in that the main female character who is recovering from a breakdown is portrayed quite sympathetically.
strange_complex
Jul. 20th, 2014 08:56 pm (UTC)
Her name is Dani, but I only know that because I was checking details of it today while writing the review! It's true that her background of a mental breakdown is treated sympathetically in the end, but I think before that it's also meant to be yet another of the red herrings - i.e. that we're supposed to take it as a 'clue' that she may be the murderer. 'Cos any kind of mental health issues = psycho killer, don'tcha know? So I'm not sure it's an entirely positive portrayal really...
ms_siobhan
Jul. 20th, 2014 09:14 pm (UTC)
True but she's not the murderer which for me was a refreshing change from the usual automatic mental health issues = psycho killer and whilst it's others who bring up her mental health issues against her she's mostly played as a strong resolute character.

Am missing watching horror nonsense malarkey - will have to set up another date to watch some :-)
strange_complex
Jul. 21st, 2014 09:13 am (UTC)
True, she is definitely the most likeable and strongest character in the film in the end.

Talking of watching horror nonsense malarkey, a local Leeds company are putting on a production of Dracula on Monday 28th July in Chapel Allerton - details here. I know about it because Ed Corbet, a friend of Mavis' is in it - don't know if you know him. Would you like to go?
ms_siobhan
Jul. 21st, 2014 09:54 am (UTC)
Possibly or rather yes I would but I need to check my diary first - am really busy atm and I can't remember what I'm up to.
strange_complex
Jul. 21st, 2014 10:06 am (UTC)
Cool, sounds good. I don't think we would have any trouble just rolling up and buying tickets on the night, so you can decide whenever you like. I'm definitely up for it if you are, anyway.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

Latest Month

April 2017
S M T W T F S
      1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30      

Tags

Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by chasethestars