Okay, we are back and recommending, but before I move on to the pale bloodsuckers who find themselves robbed of the single greatest taste known to mankind I must lay down a little information.
So far these articles have been coming at odd points just before the release of whatever film they have been tied up to. Doing them like that is some of the dumbest stuff I have ever done, at times it left me with less than a week to re-watch at least three movies and write about them, while at the same time attempting to live a life. So from this article forward there will be only one of them each month, tied up to a release happening that month, resulting in 12-13 of these a year. With that out of the way let us move on to what is on the plate for this month.
This year will see the release of no less than two movies about the slavery-hating, top hat-wearing sixteenth president of America; Abraham Lincoln. Towards the end of the year we will get Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln which will probably be really serious, award baiting and biopic-y, and which bears no relevance at all to this article. However later this month we see the release of one of the movies most destined for cult status in recent memory; Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Because it turns out that Lincoln didn’t just hate slavery, but also vampires. So find your best heart stabbing pole and pick up some fresh garlic, ‘cause some motherfuckers about to try and ice-skate uphill.
The (Potential) Classic
THE MONSTER SQUAD
United States – (1987)
Director: Fred Dekker
Starring: Andre Gower, Robby Kiger, Duncan Regehr, Stephen Macht
Man, were the 80s awesome, or what? Okay, so maybe I weren’t there to experience them first hand, but if the films they left behind are any indication it was pretty much the best decade. They gave us some of the finest horror films ever like Evil Dead, some of the greatest kid’s films like The Goonies. And let us not forget, after all, as it is the reason we are here, the most brilliant combination of the two genres. Coming off another of the decade’s most underrated films, Night of the Creeps (but more about that another time), director/writer Fred Dekker did the borderline genius act of combining two of the best things the 80s had going for them; special effects by Stan Winston and a screenplay by Shane Black. The result was the greatest childhood memory I never had; The Monster Squad.
The movie starts 100 years before the main story with Professor Van Helsing and a horde of Transylvanian villagers storm Castle Dracula to get rid of the Count once and for all, but as the movie puts it, and who am I to disagree with a Shane Black script, “they blew it”. Skip ahead one hundred years and we meet Sean, Patrick and Horace three twelve year old boys who idolize classic movie monsters and monster movies. They run a monster club out of Sean’s tree-house that in addition to the boys consist of Eugene, a boy about half their age, his beagle Pete, who nobody knows how is able to climb up to the club house, Rudy, an older High School kid who befriends Horace to get bullies to leave him alone, and despite their best attempts to prevent it Sean’s little sister Phoebe, who might just turn out to be the most important member of them all. One day Sean’s mom gets him Van Helsing’s diary at a garage sale, but to his disappointment the book is in German and the only one the gang knows that speaks German is the scary German guy down the street, but they figure translating the book is worth it. However soon strange things starts happening; a mummy escapes from the museum and the corpse of a man proclaiming he is a werewolf disappears and the morgue’s hearse driver turns up dead, so it looks like they just have to risk it and ask “scary German guy” to translate the book.
It turns out that “scary German guy” is kind of nice, or in the words of Horace “scary German guy is bitchin’”. He gladly translates the book and even gives them pie, and who doesn’t love pie? The diary tells the legend of an amulet that is made of concentrated good that keeps the balance between good and evil constant in the world. However, once every 100 years the amulet becomes destructible and if it is destroyed the balance will shift and evil will rule the earth, and as faith will have it the last time was 99 years and 364 days ago. The boys soon realize that Van Helsing must have hidden the amulet nearby and that Dracula has come to town to find and destroy it. Now the only thing standing between Dracula and world dominance is The Monster Squad.
Where does the creature from the Black Lagoon stand on Twinkies? Is there enough garlic in a slice of pizza to effectively fight a vampire with? Does the wolfman have nards? And more importantly is it effective to kick him in them? Is there a second way of killing a werewolf? Does sleeping with Steve count as losing your virginity? Will a grown man shed a tear as Frankenstein’s monster is pulled into limbo? These are just a few of the questions you never asked, but that The Monster Squad will answer. It also delivers one of the best Dracula’s to ever grace the screen in Duncan Regehr, a truly underrated performance. Unfairly overlooked at the box office upon its release, The Monster Squad is a hidden classic on the verge of getting its just recognition. So run and watch it before Platinum Dunes and, sigh, Rob fucking Cohen remake it.
While You’re At It: Check out Tony Scott’s sexy and stylish The Hunger (1983), the vastly underrated sequel Fright Night Part II (1988), Drácula (1931) the Spanish language version of the Bela Lugosi classic, and because if I can recommend something with Tim Thomerson I will, watch Near Dark (1987)
The Cult Film
United States – (1972)
Director: William Crain
Starring: William Marshall, Denise Nicholas, Vonetta McGee, Thalmus Rasulala
I previously told you about Bruceploitation, the sub-genre designed to exploit the market left open by the tragic death of Bruce Lee once people discovered there could be made money by doing so. Another of these sub-genres, although done if far less bad taste, would be Blaxploitation, the sub-genre designed to exploit the existence of a black market (I’m sorry political correct people, but the name doesn’t make sense if I say ‘African-American’). Because prior to the civil rights movement and the 1970s the American movie businesses was almost entirely white people making movies, with white people, about white people, doing white people stuff, aimed at white people audiences. Then in 1971 black film-maker Melvin Van Peebles (father of Mario) made an independent film called Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song about a black male prostitute on the run from “the man”. While it was not a very good movie it was a success, and if there is one thing studio takes notes of it is stuff making money. Although initial releases like Shaft and Superfly were intended to be taken seriously Blaxploitation quickly became something taken for camp value, and less than a year after its “birth” it was starting to see releases like the first black vampire movie; Blacula.
The year is 1780 and Mamuwalde, the Prince of an unspecified African country, has traveled to Transylvania. Like so many other visitors before him he ends up finding himself at Castle Dracula, where he has come to ask for Count Dracula’s help in suppressing the slave trade. However Dracula seems to be a big fan of slavery and decides to instead put the curse of the thirst for human blood, also known as vampirism, on Mamuwalde and names him Blacula. He seals Mamuwalde in a coffin which he hides in the basement of Castle Dracula. We skip ahead to the year 1972 (or present day as the movie calls it) where a pair of overly flamboyant homosexual antique dealers are about to close a deal on the estate of Dracula. They get word of some hidden compartments that was discovered in the basement, one of them containing a coffin, which they make sure to get included in their deal. The deal is closed and they soon set sail for Los Angeles. (Say, traveling from Romania to LA by boat sure doesn’t sound like a complicated and retarded travel route) It then unfolds the only way it can; they open the coffin, awaken Blacula and die. For some reason Blacula decides to attend the funeral of one the flamboyant departed. While there he notices Tina, a young girl who bears a striking resemblance to his late wife, mostly because she is played by the same actress, and becomes obsessed with her. Also, at the funeral is Tina’s brother-in-law, Medical Detective Gordon Thomas (played by the awesomely named Thalmus Rasulala) who finds the deceased’s neck wounds to be very odd, and when other similar bodies start showing up starts fearing that something supernatural is at play. From here it plays out a lot like you would think, with Tina in the Mina Harker part and Thomas as Van Helsing.
While it may be slightly formulaic Blacula is not without merit, a lot of which has to be attributed to lead actor William Marshall. With his towering height, booming voice and a background in theatre (as opposed to football) Marshall is commanding as Dracula’s soul brother, and gives a performance worthy of a better movie. Marshall also worked hard to give his character some dignity, resulting in a change from non-descript black guy Andrew Brown to Prince Mamuwalde. Blacula is not too shabby as a horror movie either, a certain morgue set scene comes to mind as one of the creepier scenes I’ve seen recently. At the time of its release Blacula was in fact such a big hit that it inspired directors looking for a quick buck to give some other classic horror films a Blaxploitation face lift. This resulted in the hilariously inept Blackenstein, and the more passable Dr. Black, and Mr. Hyde. Unfortunately we never got to see Black Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Although you must remember, once you go Blacula, you don’t go Bakula. That is in fact how Scott Bakula’s first marriage ended, the poor man.
While You’re At It: Check out the sequel Scream, Blacula, Scream (1973) which features freaking Pam Grier as a voodoo priestess, then see Hercules travel to Hades to fight Christopher Lee as a Greek mythological vampire in Hercules in the Haunted World (1961), since that Prometheus movie is out around now too go for a Mario Bava double with Planet of the Vampires (1965) and see if you can’t spot a couple things that might have been borrowed by another alien themed horror film, and while you are in space check out Tobe Hooper’s space vampire invasion movie Lifeforce (1985)
The Potential Cult Film
THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES
United Kingdom/Hong Kong – (1974)
Director: Roy Ward Baker (with un-credited help from Cheh Chang!)
Starring: Peter Cushing, David Chiang, Julie Ege, John Forbes-Robertson
The now classic Hammer Films was created in 1935, although it would take over 20 years before they made their mark on the movie map. Between 1957 and 1959 Hammer studios re-vamped (pun for once intended) some of the old Universal horror films with The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, and The Mummy, all of them starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. This established Hammer as one of the leading studios within the horror genre where they would remain for the next 20 years. Towards the end of the 70s however Hammer where struggling to raise an audience and in an attempt to change the recipe they released the slightly more action oriented Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter. It didn’t bring the audience back, but it did get a lot of positive feed back and so Hammer decided to give action oriented horror another round. Unlike Hollywood, Hammer realized where the best action comes from and made a deal with legendary Hong Kong movie studio Shaw Bros for a co-production, joining the best from both studios in the vampire/kung-fu movie The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires.
We start in Transylvania in 1804 as Chinese vampire high priest Kah staggers his way up a mountain to find the notorious Castle Dracula to awaken the Count himself. Once Dracula has risen from his grave (if that should be considered a pun it was unintentional) Kah explains how he needs the Count’s help to re-establish the legend of the once feared seven golden vampires. Dracula considers it for a minute before deciding to instead kill Kah so he can steal his body and thereby allowing him to travel in daylight, before he is off to China to lead the seven golden vampires.
It should be noted that this is the only Hammer movie where Dracula is not portrayed by Christopher Lee and that this might have to take partial blame for the movie’s sometimes rugged reputation. In fact Lee actually read the script, but turned it down. Let that sink in for a moment; the man who said yes to Captain America II: Death To Soon, The Castle of Fu Manchu, and that movie about a dwarf who had to get engaged to a volcano or something, whose title escapes me, read this script and told them “no”. Considering how many films he has done this might be the only role Christopher Lee has ever turned down. Although I am not sure if it was why he turned it down, or if it was a reaction to him turning it down, but Dracula screen time is rather abrupt here. A part from the opening scene with Kah, Dracula only reveals his true face at the very end just for him to immediately get stabbed in the heart by Van Helsing, and his time on the screen clocks in at less than five minutes.
We pick up the story again a decade later in 1904’s Hong Kong where Professor Van Helsing, played as always by Peter Cushing, is giving a lecture at the Chungking University, the theme is of course vampires. He tells them the legend of the golden vampires and how a tormented farmer (David Chiang in a dual part) killed one of them. The entire class calls poppycock on the whole ordeal and walks out on old Van Helsing. All but one that is, because Hsi Ching, played by Shaw Bros mega star David Chiang, doesn’t just believe Van Helsing. Hsi wants him to join his brothers and him as they go on a quest to find and kill the remaining six golden vampires. Hsi’s brothers and one sister are the grandchildren of the old farmer and are now set on finishing what their grandpa started. In a different part of Chungking, Van Helsing’s son Leyland, whom I suspect is only in the film because Cushing didn’t make for a suitable romantic lead, is attempting to court the rich Scandinavian widow Mrs. Buren. The widow is for the record played by Norwegian actress Julie Ege, who’s co-starring in this Shaw production might be Norway’s biggest claim to the international action scene. As a Norwegian I don’t know if I’m proud or ashamed. In the process Van Jr. ends up insulting Chungking’s biggest crime boss who ends up putting price on his head. All of a sudden in a need to get out of town. Mrs. Buren agrees to finance Van Sr. and the Hsi brother’s vampire expedition on the condition that she is allowed to join them. Reluctantly Van Sr. agrees to it and they are off for some old fashioned vampire killing.
For years there were rumours that the film had been co-directed by legendary Shaw director Cheh Chang, the man behind such classics as Golden Swallow and Five Deadly Venoms. Only recently has it been confirmed that he in fact did and his name has started appearing in credits. While this is definitely one of Hammer’s sillier films, but the always dependent Peter Cushing lends the film some gravitas as Van Helsing, and David Chiang holds his own surprisingly well in his slightly broken English. The end result feels a little closer to a Shaw Bros movie with its themes of brotherhood, but the Hammer touch is definitely present. It plays fast and loose with the rules of vampires with a couple of nifty details, like Chinese vampires fearing the image of Buddha rather than the crucifix. As long as you don’t take it seriously, definitely more of a Hammer trademark, there is a lot of fun to be had with Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires.
While You’re At It: Check out Hammer’s other Dracula films with Horrors of Dracula (1958) and all its sequels, the aforementioned Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974), get some more Asian vampires as the Fat Dragon himself Sammo Hung battles all kind of ghouls in Encounter of the Spooky Kind (1980), and since he is on the verge of becoming the patron saint of these articles watch Tim Thomerson hunt bloodsuckers with a vengeance in Live Evil (2009)