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12.-15. Over-due film reviews

Christmas was very nice, involving a soft new dark purple dressing-gown, this book, a roaring fire and a roast duck. Today we have been out in the melting snow to saw up a wardrobe and take it to the tip, and now I've got a couple of hours of quiet time before a family friend comes round to dinner. So let's get started on those over-due reviews I mentioned. A batch of films first, the first two of which must date back to at least June, because I saw them before I went to Australia at the end of that month.


12. Nothing But The Night (1973), dir. Peter Sasdy

This one I watched with [profile] ladylugosi_1313 because we just fancied a bit 1970s Cushing-Lee action (a fairly permanent state of mind for us). I've seen it before, and my review from last time (LJ / DW) does not exactly brim over with enthusiasm, but we actually found it better than either of us had remembered on a re-watch. Much of my complaint last time was that it suddenly seemed to switch genres in the final 10 minutes or so, whipping out a supernatural explanation for what had until then appeared to be a perfectly ordinary murder-mystery story with little time to process it or understand why a child was suddenly burning her own mother to death. But of course if you know that supernatural explanation from the beginning, it doesn't appear quite so incongruous when it comes, and you can pick up small ways in which it had actually been telegraphed much earlier on in the film.

There's still a problem with the ending, though, even after the supernatural explanation for all the strange goings-on has been revealed. Basically, the story drives itself into a moral corner by putting a bunch of grown adults who have all done terrible things and therefore need to get their come-uppance into the stolen bodies of children. The dilemma is that because they look like children, it would be a hard sell to convince the audience that it would really be OK for the heroic point-of-view characters we have been following throughout the narrative to gun them down, destroy them in a blazing inferno, or deploy any of the other methods typically used to defeat villains in fantasy movies. However much the audience might have been told that they are adult villains, the visuals of horrible deaths being visited on people we instinctively see as innocent just wouldn't be good. So the solution chosen instead was for the children to enact justice on themselves by deciding to jump off a cliff en masse at the first sign that their plans had been rumbled and they might shortly have to face justice. Unfortunately, though, this just doesn’t ring true at all given the lengths they have already gone to to secure immortality, and contributes a lot to the sensation I'd experienced last time of just feeling that the entire film had plunged spectacularly off the rails in the final few minutes.

Oh well, it still has Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in it, and lots of great '70s period detail, so watching it certainly wasn't a waste of time. But I doubt it will ever be terribly high up my list of their best pairings.


13. Son of Frankenstein (1939), dir. Rowland V. Lee

This was another one watched with [profile] ladylugosi_1313, quite possibly on the same night (I can't remember). It features Basil Rathbone as the title character, returning to his father's castle to restore his reputation - except that this includes reviving his Creature, and things start to go horribly wrong when the local Ygor (Bela Lugosi) uses the Creature to wreak revenge on the men who once sentenced him to a hanging (a fuller plot summary is on Wikipedia). Everyone is very good in it - perhaps especially Lugosi as the shaggy, conspiring Ygor - and Basil gets an excellent, athletic swinging-on-a-rope moment at the end to knock the Creature into a sulphur pit and save the day. But the absolute stars of the production really are the wonderful sets, and especially this beautiful pair of matching fire-places in the main living area:

son-frankenstein-39-2.jpg


14. Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974), dir. Brian Clemens

I watched this one on the plane from the UK to Thailand, mainly because it was available on Google Play Movies, so I could easily get it onto the tablet which I had bought especially for that trip and watch it when offline. I had seen almost all of it before, but never all sequentially or while properly paying attention. It’s a creditable go at a fresh take on the vampire film on Hammer’s part, and it has some good sequences. I like the scene in which Kronos and Grost have to find out how to despatch the semi-vampirised Dr. Marcus by experimentation, with him urging them on all the while. It offers a good note of black humour and a fun tongue-in-cheek dig at the conventions of the vampire genre. Caroline Munro also does a very good job of experiencing a creepy night in front of the fire at Durward Manor (the vampires' strong-hold). But I find Kronos himself a bit characterless, and Caroline Munro isn’t given enough to do beyond looking scared, wenchlike or sexy. Her performances as both Laura in Dracula AD 1972 and Margiana in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad show a capacity to convey a sense of adventure and vitality which wasn’t given enough outlet here.


15. Dracula: The Dark Prince (2013), Pearry Reginald Teo

Another one downloaded onto my tablet before my Australia trip, and watched in a hotel in Brisbane. I straight-up loved it! It belongs to a particular sub-genre of Dracula stories which are sort of about the historical Vlad as a vampire, but which treat 15th-century Wallachia as a generic Game of Thrones-ish medieval fantasy world rather than making any very serious attempt to situate him in a real historical context. Dracula Untold is on the edge of this field, although it makes more effort than most with the historical setting, and the opening scenes of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) are of course what really kicked them all off - but most are novels or comic books. Although I haven’t read any of those, I'm aware enough of the genre to recognise it here, and I have a lot of respect for the approach. It basically takes all the fun bits of the various branches of the Dracula mythos, and doesn't let historical or literary purity get in the way of constructing epic Gothic adventures out of them. Quite right too! This particular film it isn’t anything very much to write home about as far as scripting, acting, direction or cinematography are concerned, and nor does it win any prizes for its representation of gender relations, ethnic diversity, disability or anything else. But as Gothic brain candy it is wonderful and uplifting and enchanting, and I definitely want more films like this, please. I might even explore some of those novels or comic books at some point...


That will have to be enough reviews for today, though, as it is time to get in the shower and then help with getting dinner started.


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