#188 Black Sunday

Watched: July 19 2018

Director: Mario Bava

Starring: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi, Ivo Garrani, Arturo Dominici, Enrico Olivieri

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 27min

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In 17th century Moldavia, Princess Asa Vajda (Steele) is sentenced as a witch by her brother and executed after having the “mask of Satan” nailed to her face. But before she dies, she curses her brother and all his descendants.

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To be fair, if someone tried to nail this thing to our faces, we’d probably curse them too

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Fast forward 200 years and two travelling doctors stumble upon her grave. One of them, Kruvajan (Checchi), is attacked by a bat which he kills over Asa’s tomb smashing the cross guarding it in the process. He then proceeds to remove her mask and spill blood on her.

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“Let’s open this tomb with the strangely preserved corpse and drip some blood on it” – a man who has never seen a horror film

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Kruvajan and his young companion Andre Gorobec (Richardson) then run into a mysterious young woman who bears a striking resemblance to the dead witch, Katia (Steele again) and Andre is smitten.

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It’s hard to resist a woman with two massive dogs

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After the meddling with the dead witch’s grave, the surviving members of the Vajda family start to experience strange phenomena, and it becomes clear that Asa and her companion Javuto (Dominici) are back for revenge.

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“Grrr rawr, I’m coming to get you, Barbara!”

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We’re back in our favourite genre with this horror film, and we have a bit of a thing for Mario Bava (especially Sister the Oldest), so naturally we loved Black Sunday. It’s an unsettling and atmospheric Gothic horror with gorgeous lighting and some very good effects. We loved Asa’s resurrection and Katia’s transformation, Barbara Steele’s eyes (emphasized by intense make-up) and the creepy castle.

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Not what most people associate with a “come hither look,” but strangely effective nonetheless

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Sure, there are some issues with this movie, such as the slightly iffy dialogue and the fact that everyone keeps treating Katia like an idiot child (even with everything going on and several corpses piled up, the men don’t really believe her when she claims to have seen someone in her room), but we still love it.

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In the men’s defence, Katia does tend to act a bit like an idiot child, so they may be justified

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Absolutely a must-see if you’re into Italian cult horrors. Which of course is everyone’s favourite genre, so why wouldn’t you watch it?

What we learned: Don’t remove all protective elements and then spill blood on cursed graves. Just don’t.

Next time: Breathless/À bout de souffle (1960)

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#161 Dracula

Watched: January 7 2018

Director: Terence Fisher

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling

Year: 1958

Runtime: 1h 22min

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The story of Dracula hardly needs another recap, but if you still have no idea what this is all about, check out our previous entries on the same story, Dracula (1931) or Nosferatu (1922). We’re pretty sure we summarized the story in at least one of those.

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Blood, fangs, crazy eyes and just a hint of sexy. Really all the info you need.

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That being said, Terence Fisher and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster took some liberties with their 1958 version, mainly concerning some characters and their relationships. Lucy, Mina and Jonathan Harker in particular have gone through some changes.

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Van Helsing is his old, charming self though

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Well-known story and some artistic liberties aside, Hammer’s Dracula (a.k.a. Horror of Dracula) is one of our favourite versions of Bram Stoker’s novel. Christopher Lee is sexy, suave and animalistic as the count, and Peter Cushing is magnetic and dynamic as his arch nemesis.

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We’re honestly not entirely sure how we would react if this guy showed up in our bedroom… Sure, he’s deadly, but what a way to go!

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We absolutely love this movie. There’s nothing like a good vampire story (emphasis on the “good”), and we appreciate that Jonathan Harker is as useless and boring as we’ve always thought he was even as they’ve tried to make his character a bit more interesting.

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Going from accountant to vampire-fighting librarian might sound cool on paper, but he can’t even resist one scantily clad woman. Giles he’s not!

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Now, our eternal love for Gary Oldman is well documented, but even we have to admit that Christopher Lee’s vampire count may be on par with Oldman’s. And despite the many changes to characters etc. made in this version, it stays true to the original story. There’s nothing not to love, and if you’re only going to watch one version of the ultimate vampire romance, you could do a lot worse than this.

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Pro tip: if you have no reflection in the mirror, take a full bath before bedtime. It’s so easy to miss a spot of blood.

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What we learned: If you’re trying to kill a powerful nemesis and his much weaker sidekick, perhaps it is a good idea to take out the main threat first..?

Next time: Elevator to the Gallows (1958)

#15 Dracula

Watched: August 13 2016

Director: Tod Browning

Starring: Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Helen Chandler

Year: 1931

Runtime: 1h 25min

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We’re back in our element with this classic horror film based on the same source material as Nosferatu, and Bela Lugosi is bringing sexy back to the vampire! I mean, not to the same extent as Gary Oldman, because that’s impossible, but still. This Count Dracula is classy and stylish, and the sexual aspect of feeding on the young women is much more apparent in this version (partly because this one includes Dracula’s wives, roaming the castle in their nighties). The castle itself is a derelict yet awesome building where the pangolins run free. If it hadn’t been for the spiders we’d move in on the spot!

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It’s only a model

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The story is much the same as in Nosferatu, but with a few changes. Jonathan Harker never visits Transylvania; instead, the first scene is with Renfield who undertakes the journey and is warned by superstitious locals about the Count and his wives. He is quickly enslaved and accompanies his new master on the voyage to England where he is promptly placed in a lunatic asylum run by Mina’s father.

Professor Van Helsing plays a more important role in this than in Murnau’s 1922 version. In fact, the scenes with Dracula and Van Helsing are easily the best ones in the film as their chemistry is brilliant. Mina is still the object of the Count’s desire though, and it’s his lust for her which is finally his undoing.

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“Swiggity swooty I’m coming for that booty”

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This is an iconic film that everyone should watch at least once in their lives. There are some great performances and the way Dracula’s eyes are lit throughout is very cool. For die hard fans (not fans of Die Hard (1988), but die hard fans of Dracula) we can also recommend travelling to Sighișoara in Romania which is the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, the real life inspiration for the character. And have we recommended Coppola’s 1992 version of Dracula..? ‘Cause Gary Oldman, people!

Things we learned: never trust nobility. Especially if they have no reflection.

Next time: Frankenstein (1931)

#2 Nosferatu

Watched: July 30 2016 (double feature night!)

Director: F.W. Murnau

Starring: Max Schreck

Year: 1922

Runtime: 1h 34min

Liquids consumed: 2 ciders each

 

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As many of you will know, Nosferatu is an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s epistolary novel Dracula (1897). However, due to copyright problems, the names and places had to be changed. Thus, the vampire is (the now iconic) Count Orlok, portrayed by (the equally iconic) Max Schreck. If there were ever a name more suitable for playing movie monsters, I do not know what it would be. This was one of the films I had on DVD, but it is also available on Youtube (though with the names changed to ones more similar to those in Stoker’s novel).

The plot should be well known to most: a young man (here: a happy-go-lucky simpelton) is dispatched to Transylvania to help a Count buy property in Wisborg/London. At the mention of Count Orlok/Dracula, the local villagers are frightened and beg him not to proceed on his journey. And rightly so. The Count turns out to be a vampire, feeds on the young man and then leaves him prisoner in his castle while travelling to Wisborg/London to eat/seduce his wife/fiancé. There is also a professor who does research on vampiric stuff, but he is not that important in this version.

This is another German Expressionist film, although the sets are vastly different from those in Dr. Caligari. They are realistic rather than stylized, although the director plays a lot with light and shadows (as seen in the picture above) which we also saw in Caligari. There are nods to the epistolariness (is that a word? I’ll pretend it is) of Stoker’s work in that a lot of the intertitles are excerpts from letters and/or books.

Max Schreck portrays a very creepy Count, a far cry from Gary Oldman’s sexy, sexy beast in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 Dracula. Schreck’s character is more about the feeding and less about the ladies, if you know what I mean (although only a woman can lure him to his death). Count Orlok is very batlike (but not like Batman. More like an actual bat) whilst Oldman’s Dracula has more of the wolf about him. A sexy, sexy wolf…

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Nananananananana BATMAN!

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He is however oddly endearing as he emerges from the ship

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Helloooo? Iz anyone hier?

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In conclusion, this is an entertaining and spooky bit of cinema that everyone needs to watch at least once in their lives. We also recommend watching Sexy Oldman in Coppola’s 1992 Dracula. Cause Gary Oldman…

Next time: Safety Last (1923)