Dracula vs Frankenstein/Brain of Blood (1971)

MAY 25, 2020


I saw my first Al Adamson movie (Blood of Dracula's Castle) in 2010, and was so delighted I instantly knew I had to seek out more of his work. And now, over a decade later, I've finally done that, thanks to Severin's incredible new boxed set of pretty much the filmmaker's entire filmography. A whopping 31 films are included on the set, which includes a new documentary about his life (and very weird death) and more extras than even a supplements junkie like myself could probably get through in a reasonable amount of time. Just on the first disc I picked out, which includes Dracula vs Frankenstein and Brain of Blood, there are two commentaries, interviews, a 55 minute video essay about the former, and more - so you're talking 7-8 hours' worth of content on a single disc, and there are fourteen of them!

It's amusing that a filmmaker like Adamson would be the subject of such a lavish set (one that took Herculean efforts from the Severin folks) to pull together, because the films themselves are cheap, quickie productions that allowed Adamson and frequent collaborator Sam Sherman to cut corners (some of the films have the same score, for example). But that sort of "let's get it done" attitude is a big part of their charm, in my opinion, and the bonus features actually shed some light on how/why the films are the way they are. Dracula vs Frankenstein, for example, started life as a film that didn't include either character and simply focused on a hulking killer picking off people on/near the beach. But for business reasons the two legendary monsters were added in, and now we have a film that lives up to the Adamson gold standard.

And by that I mean it's a kitchen sink-type affair, just as Blood of Dracula's Castle and (as I'd discover the next day) Brain of Blood were. The films come off like something being described by Stefon from SNL; DvF has the two title characters, a mute murderer (played by Lon Chaney Jr!), hippie protests, a Vegas act, a carnival dwarf, evil bikers... and, if anything, Brain of Blood has even more packed into it (a possible government coup, for example). As I get older and see more movies it gets harder to truly surprise me anymore, as I recognize the beats and sleight of hand attempts at misdirecting the audience, but I can truly say that with these movies I never in a million years could have predicted where they'd end up based on their first few minutes. Good or bad doesn't really matter - long as I'm engaged and surprised, then I call it a win.

Dracula vs. Frankenstein has a notoriously low rating on IMDb to give it some "worst movies of all time" type exposure (being Chaney's last film doesn't help either; it probably generated some interest from Wolf Man fans that would have otherwise skipped such fare), but I found it to be a fun little flick. I assume that the shoddiness of Dracula's costume and performance (the "actor" was Sherman's stockbroker, from what I understand) is to blame for the poor reviews, but I've seen worse incarnations of the character (Dracula 3000, for example) and knew not to expect anything on par with Lugosi or even Butler. Plus he's not in the movie all that much (makes sense since he was added in later), and his scenes are ridiculous enough to be enjoyable in their own weird way, like when he first encounters Frankenstein (the doctor, not the monster) and proceeds to explain the man's own backstory to him.

Plus at its core is a "looking for a missing family member" subplot, which is something I always take a liking to - everything from The Seventh Victim to the Friday the 13th remake has some version of this story and it tends to keep me invested when we're finding things out along with the hero (which is why it doesn't fully work in F13 '09 - we know his sister's alive long before he does). Her journey is what gives the film many of its more random elements (LSD trips! Biker run-ins! A cop that looks like David Lynch!) so in addition to not knowing if her sister is alive or not, we also never have even the slightest idea of what she might get mixed up in next as she tries to find out.

Brain of Blood, featuring many of the same cast members (including the stockbroker guy again, albeit in a far less crucial role), somehow manages to be even wackier, since the plot concerns the fictional Arabian nation of Kalid and how its dying leader's brain will be placed in a healthy body (and then given plastic surgery to make sure no one can tell the difference!), which goes horribly wrong and the brain ends up inside a hulking brute, who has some of the leader's brain but retains some of his own, murderous instincts as well. There's almost a mild Bond (or, at least, Bond ripoff) kind of vibe here - amidst all of the murders there's a big car chase and a rooftop fistfight, not to mention "stop a crazy man from taking over a foreign country" sounds more like a spy movie plot than one for a horror movie from the Dracula vs Frankenstein team.

Whether these are the best, worst, or merely "average" Adamson films is something I look forward to finding out as I go through the boxed set, though these two more or less match up to my take on Dracula's Castle, which is that they're kind of stuffed to the gills with random elements that somehow ultimately work together. None of them are what I'd call "great", but that's sort of besides the point, because (especially at this moment in history) they held my attention and made me smile for 90 minutes, which is what I'm sure anyone involved was hoping to achieve in the first place. And besides, they were made for drive-in audiences 50 years ago, not exhaustive special edition Blu-rays, so the fact that they can still entertain a guy by himself at home is proof of their enduring success. Obviously the boxed set itself is kind of expensive for your average blind buy, but if you're unaccustomed to Adamson's style, I highly encourage seeking out one of his movies and seeing if you too can appreciate his vibe. And if you ARE a fan, then I can't imagine not wanting this on your shelf, if the presentation and accompanying extras just on this one disc are any indication of the quality of the rest of the set.

What say you?


Among The Living (2014)

MAY 4, 2020


If you would have told me on my way out of the screening of Inside that I attended in 2007 that someday its filmmakers would make a slasher movie that would be free for me to watch for literal years before I finally watched it, I woulda told you that you were nuts (and also that you were a very strangely selective time traveler). Among the Living (French: Aux yeux des vivants) is the 3rd film from the Bustillo/Maury team that gave us that aforementioned classic (now officially cemented as one of my favorite horror films of the past twenty years), but the uneven Livide and misguided Leatherface left me hesitant about watching it, as I couldn't take another disappointment from a pair of filmmakers I briefly considered to be genre saviors.

Well, if nothing else, it's their 2nd best movie, and ironically it's only because of my now-lowered expectations that I was probably able to enjoy it to the extent that I did. Had it been their sophomore effort I would have been more disappointed, and if it was the first film of theirs that I ever saw I can't say I'd be clamoring to see what else they had done, but as is? It's pretty good! After the nutty Livide they went back to something more grounded, with a fairly straightforward tale of three boys who skip school and see something horrific in the woods, then get chased by the villain back to their homes. It oddly reminded me of a particular film that we can't mention by name (a house and clowns are involved, perhaps not in that order), but it also had some elements of the Chainsaw films as the killer has a demented family and has turned a dilapidated tourist spot (a movie studio in this case) into their lair. Is this what got them the Leatherface gig?

Like Livide, the first half is stronger than the second, buying it a lot of goodwill. After a prologue featuring Beatrice Dalle (one that allows her to pay gruesome and ironic tribute to her Inside character), we meet our trio of eighth grade boys, who are typical lads of that age, cracking dirty jokes and goofing off, drawing the ire of their teacher. On the last day of school they get detention for having a minor food fight at lunch, but using the "what can they do?" power of it being their final day, they decide to skip and go exploring in the woods instead. After causing a fire in a barn, they run to the abandoned Blackwood Studios, an ideal location for a horror movie as it has a variety of backdrops and an appropriately creepy feel.

It's there that they see a woman being tortured by a pair of hulking killers (Dalle's husband and son from the prologue), resulting in a quick chase around the place. Unfortunately, they escape the grounds relatively quickly and flag down some cops, who - as per the rule of horror films - find nothing and write them off as pranksters. The boys go home, get into their respective trouble with their parents, and then one by one the killer shows up at their homes and does... something! to all of them (more on that soon). The structure has two issues, one being that their homes are nowhere near as interesting to look at as the run down studio, and the other (more important) one is that the boys never interact again for the rest of the film. Their dynamic was one of the film's strongest points; they had distinct personalities and a fun rapport, but after the 40 minute mark they're stuck with their forgettable families.

And it's frustrating, because (here come the spoilers!) when the killer has isolated them (offing one's babysitter and another's abusive father) and closes in, we see their face as a white light blankets the screen and fades to the next scene, as if they were being "taken" as opposed to being killed. To me this seemed to promise a reunion, with the trio banding together to take on the beast they had unleashed, but... nope. They're dead, as apparently even these guys won't kill kids on screen (though realizing they were in fact dead made me chuckle as I assumed this was their way of ensuring that the film wouldn't get bought to be remade in the US, which was the fate of poor Livide, which remains unreleased here). Robbing us of the film's best asset is one thing, but to do so in favor of standalone setpieces that lack definitive conclusions is pretty weak.

That said, at least those setpieces are pretty good in their own right, particularly the third as it has a family of five at risk (the other two boys were only with single adults), and features one of the weirdest deaths I've seen recently, which might forever kill a viewer's foot fetish if they have one. There's also a mortifying reveal of the killer, which I found interesting because (spoiler again!) we discover he only LOOKS like a grown man but is actually only six years old, which re-contextualizes all of his earlier actions as a kid who doesn't know his own strength playing with "toys" (young people). The only physical evidence of his real age that we are offered is a microscopic baby penis, which was interesting because right now I'm reading a book called Damon which does the opposite thing with a similar case: a young boy with a growth disorder has all appearances of a child *except* for his junk, which is fully grown, so we're "treated" to descriptions of the thing nearly touching the floor because of his toddler-length legs. I swear... only I could manage to be entertained by TWO stories of murderous five year olds with penis issues in the same day.

If you're a Shudder subscriber there's no excuse not to watch it (especially *now*, lol sigh), but it'd help to think of it as "The followup to Livide" or something and keep your affinity for Inside at bay (at least as much as you can, as they seemingly reference it more than once). That movie was lightning in a bottle, it seems, and the mixed results for their following films (Leatherface was overcooked by producers, so we can asterisk the issues with that one and not chalk its failure entirely up to them) wouldn't be so disappointing if not for coming out of the gate so strong. Both this and Livide are pretty good movies with issues, which is, you know, how most horror movies are. If they can keep subsequent films at this "pretty good, at times great" level, that'd be fine by me. And besides, it took Wes 12 years to match Nightmare (with Scream) and Tobe close to a decade to live up to TCM (with Poltergeist, and don't even start) - perhaps their next masterpiece will be coming someday. I just have to stop expecting it.

What say you?


The Uncanny (1977)

APRIL 28, 2020


Despite having an affinity for cat-driven horror, I somehow never heard of The Uncanny until I saw a trailer at the New Bev (can't recall when exactly, though it was in the past few years I think. In my head it was during one of their all night horror-thons), at which point I immediately made plans to see it. X number of years later and one quarantine at home later, I finally found the time to check it out via the Blu-ray I managed to obtain somewhere along the way (though it only came out last year, so it hasn't been THAT long). I really should start cataloging where exactly I get these things - for every one I distinctly recall getting ("Won at trivia") there are five that I haven't a clue how they ended up in the endless pile of films next to my couch.

As it's an anthology that rarely gets brought up, I wasn't expecting much out of it beyond a few laughs at the never-successful attempts to make cats act as threatening as they often are in real life. Since cats can't be trained as well as dogs, they're rarely used as the main antagonist for a horror film, as there's simply not much a director can do with the damn things when they won't do what you want. Basically you have to piss them off to get them to do something like snarl and swipe (not very nice!) and then toss one at an actor from off-camera, hoping editing can cover the rest. But director Denis Héroux (who was following up the woefully unpleasant Naked Massacre) and screenwriter Michel Parry came up with a solid workaround: make an anthology where the evil cats change every 20-25 minutes!

The wraparound is pretty great: Peter Cushing (!) plays a frazzled author who is trying to get a book published on how cats are evil and have been the ones in control for centuries, and to convince a publisher about it he presents three of his findings. As he tries to sway the man (who clearly isn't buying it), more and more cats keep appearing outside, which to Cushing means more proof of his theory and that they're there to silence him. It's fun to see Cushing as kind of a loser for a change, since he's usually the most prim and proper (and awesome) guy in the room, and you can't help but feel bad for him since he's obviously right. A lazier producer would have cast him as the no-nonsense, slightly antagonistic publisher, but instead we get the rare sight of pitying the actor.

The stories aren't too bad either, and get better as they go which is always a plus. The first one is fine, but the problem is that it's basically a sped up version of Eye of the Cat, the terrific (and funny) thriller about a guy trying to scam his way into his cat-loving aunt's will. Here, the devious nephew is barely seen - more of the focus is on his lover, who is the woman's maid and target of her cats. It's all too straightforward and brief on characterization to feel suspenseful or intriguing, and the plot similarities to the superior film don't help matters any. But in terms of ridiculous cat action it delivers better than the other two (which only have single cats in them) so it kind of evens out.

The second one kicked things into gear, and won me over quickly with the appearance of a Cathy's Curse cast member (Renee Girard, who played the lady who lived next door in that film), and got even better when I realized it was a low-key evil child story, as our antihero (and cat owner) was a little girl sent to live with her cousin after her own parents died in a plane crash. It takes all of seven seconds for the cousin to start being awful to her (including terrorizing her with a remote controlled plane that crashes! I mean, JEEZ), and her AND her mother hate the poor girl's cat, trying to get rid of it within days. So the young lass does what you or I would do: uses a book on black magic to cast a spell that shrinks the evil cousin down to the size of a mouse, then lets Wellington the cat bat her around as if she was one. The FX are largely terrible, naturally, but the sheer insanity and viciousness of it more than makes up for it.

Then there's the third and best story, in which Donald Pleasence (!!!) plays a Vincent Price-esque actor who arranges to have his own wife killed during the shooting of a Pit and the Pendulum film, replacing the fake blade with a real one for its iconic scene, a scheme hatched between him and her stand-in (Samantha Eggar), with whom he has been having an affair. When they go home that night (my man has zero interest in putting on the pretense of being in mourning, I guess) we learn the woman had a cat, so you can guess what will happen next. But what it lacks in surprises it makes up for in Pleasence's performance, as he's having a ball playing a total scumbag (this was one year before Halloween gave him a bit of a career boost), and if you're a Curtains fan then you can enjoy Eggar as another actress for director John Vernon - I had no idea the later film was actually a reunion for them, in similar roles to boot.

As the disc was only released in 2019 it's pretty scarce on extras, since Héroux, Parry, and a lot of the cast are unfortunately now deceased. The lone supplement is an interview with Susan Penhaligon, who plays the maid in the first segment, who reveals Cushing sent her flowers for her first day of filming, which was quite nice of him since their characters weren't even in the same scenes. So I can't say it's a disc worth paying full price for as the movie is fun but not exactly one you'll watch over and over, and the thin supplements mean you'll spend well south of two hours with it. But if the film ever pops up on Shudder or whatever, give it a look - it's a pretty fun timekiller that offers about as much evil cat footage a movie can without resorting to CGI or something, and treats you to the sight of Donald Pleasence as an man women would literally kill to be with.

What say you?


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