Happy Birthday Kayla!

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As the saying goes, it’s my blog and I’ll write about it if I want to…or something to that effect. Today, I am not writing about some great monster flick or legendary horror actor. Rather, I am offering up birthday wishes to my daughter…my little sweet pea, Kayla!

Kayla has always been daddy’s little girl, whether it was playing Power Rangers with her brother and I on Saturday mornings or wanting to get in on the latest all-star wrestling bout in the living room. But most of all, she’s always had a love for scary movies. Imagine how proud I was when her and her brother discovered Vincent Price in House on Haunted Hill or the smile on my face when they wanted to sit down and watch Batman or The Three Stooges. Kayla and I watched Ghost Hunters for years (until we both gave up on it) and, most importantly, we’ve been watching every episode of Supernatural together since day one. We even traveled down to Dallas to meet Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki. And she loves to attend comic conventions with me, carrying my wish list and reading off issue numbers as I pour through long boxes searching for cool stuff. Yep, she’s a cool kid and I’m proud to be her father!

Happy 24th Birthday Kayla!!!Kayla Walking Dead

Dread Media – Scream and Scream Again (1970)

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Scream posterThis week on the Dread Media podcast, episode 457, I take a look at the first of the only two films that Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee starred in together. However, Scream and Scream Again (1970) is a bit of a cheat considering that Cushing never appears on screen with Cushing or Lee. Furthermore, Price and Lee only have one scene together. That said, it has its moments and is worth checking out.  Watch the trailer and see if you notice anything odd, then do some shopping on Amazon for the DVD or Blu-ray versions.

There’s one more Vincent Price film coming before the month of May is done…Convicts 4 (1962)!

Christopher Lee Does Little Swashbuckling in Pirates of Blood River (1962)

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Pirates posterIf you’re wanting to make a pirate movie but you’re told that you can’t afford a ship, wouldn’t you think you might decide to make a different type of movie? Unfortunately, that didn’t stop production on a seldom-talked about non-horror effort from Hammer Film Studios called Pirates of Blood River (1962). However, by the time filming was finished, several of the cast probably wished it had never happened.

Hammer regular Jimmy Sangster had the unenviable task of writing a pirate story that had nothing to the do with the seven seas and everything to do with a swamp. So, if pirates are landlocked, are they still pirates? This movie is set entirely on the Isle of Devon, home to a group of Huguenots under the stern rule of a group of village elders imposing their moralistic views upon everyone. Break a law and you’ll be sent to the nearby penal colony, even if you’re the son of one of the elders.

Enter our hero, Jonathan Standing (Kerwin Matthews, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad), son of Jason Standing (Andrew Keir, Five Million Years to Earth). As our movie begins, Jonathan is caught having relations with a married woman. As he is held by guards, the woman runs, eventually entering a nearby swamp and being devoured by ravenous piranha. Jonathan is sentenced to the penal colony despite the obvious displeasure of the community. However, he soon escapes and runs into a group of pirates led by Captain LaRoche (Christopher Lee).

Pirates 2LaRoche is looking for a home when his men aren’t being buccaneers and Jonathan’s village is the perfect place. Once he hears its home to Huguenots, dreams of rumored fortune plays into his decision to find the village. Naturally, a confrontation occurs with the pirates eventually finding the gold and heading back to their ship with Jonathan and the villagers in hot pursuit. And let’s not forget those pesky little piranha.

Pirates of Blood River is definitely an odd entry from Hammer. It’s a pirate movie without a pirate ship (well, what we see is a long shot of stock footage) and the village rulers you hate at the beginning of the film end up being the heroes of the piece. Christopher Lee turns in an adequate performance as our pirate with support from Oliver Reed and Michael Ripper as pirates Brocaire and Mack. Kerwin Matthews is dashing as the main hero but Glenn Corbett’s performance as Henry is about as exciting to watch as paint dry.

It’s painfully obvious that the budget was quite small on this one, with only a handful of smaller sets and the swamp, which was really a pond at Black Park. Filming there was hazardous due to excessive mud, sludge and disease. Oliver Reed contracted an eye and ear infection while Michael Ripper nearly drowned and Lee claimed he couldn’t walk upstairs for six months.

The piranha sequence at the beginning of the film was originally much more intense before the censors cut it down. In fact, the censors even reportedly removed all of the piranha scenes at one point along with the blindfolded swordfight. However, those scenes have since been restored.

Pirates 3The crew certainly comes with an impressive list of credentials. Director John Gilling was a staple of Hammer, including such films as Brigand of Kandahar, Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile. The writing staff consisted of John Hunter (Never Take Sweets from a Stranger) and John Gilling (The Gorgon), along with Jimmy Sangster (Terror of the Tongs, The Mummy) and another longtime Hammer contributor, Anthony Nelson Keys. However, despite a good cast and crew, Pirates of Blood River really falls flat. It lacks excitement and, at times, you find yourself shifting from one plot (unhappy villagers, stern rule, fornicating wives) to another (pirates in search of gold). A few scenes are fun but the endless walking through the swamps can be tough to wade through.

Pirates of Blood River is currently available and reasonably priced as part of the Icons of Adventure DVD box set. Check out the trailer on YouTube and have what fun you can with this one before listening to the recent 1951 Down Place podcast review. Perhaps an early Sunday morning over some breakfast and tea would help make this one a little easier to get through.

Monster Kid Radio – Night of the Big Heat (1967)

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Island posterI’ve finally made my return to the Rondo award-winning Monster Kid Radio podcast! I was there at the beginning and this week I’m back in episode 269, sitting down for a very fun conversation with host Derek M. Koch to talk about Night of the Big Heat (1967) aka Island of the Burning Damned. This oft-maligned classic, starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, is a fun way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon. The movie might be a little difficult to find on DVD or Blu-ray but is well worth tracking down. And fear not, we’re already planning my return for later this year!

Dread Media – The Dr. Goldfoot Adventures

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Dr Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine posterThis week on Dread Media in episode 456, I take a look at two of Vincent Price’s lesser talked about non-horror offerings. First up, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965), followed by Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966). One is definitely fun in a cheesy 60s way, the other is really tough to make it through. Then, take the time to also check out the incredibly unique 1965 television special, The Wild Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot!

Stay tuned, there is more Price, Cushing and Lee madness coming your way before May is over!

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Peter Cushing Ends His Hammer Film Studios Career with Shatter (1974)

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“It’s the most ferocious martial arts thriller of them all.”
– Trailer Narrator

Shatter posterWhen a film changes directors in mid-production and the musical score before its release, you know you have a film in trouble. When the film was intended to start a new TV series but ends up being the end of a two studio collaboration, you will begin to question what exactly went wrong. Such is the case with the 1974 British and Hong Kong action flick, Shatter. Yet, it comes from the legendary Hammer Studios and has the presence of Peter Cushing, so how could it be that bad?

Honestly, Shatter isn’t that bad of a film despite its many flaws and short comings. But, sadly, it’s the fact that you see what it could have been that makes it as disappointing as it turns out to be. I actually liked Shatter at times for what it was trying to do and I enjoyed certain elements within it. It offers us the feel of 1970s action flicks while mixing in some martial arts action, ever so popular at the time. Our main character, known simply as Shatter, is a well-known but low-rent hitman who is contracted to kill an African dictator. We witness riots in the streets as the film begins, courtesy of some overly obvious stock footage. As the dictator goes to a hotel to spend time with a young woman, he is shot by a masked man using a gun hidden within a camera. The ever-present trademark red Hammer blood is used in rather graphic amounts as Shatter adds to the body count by killing a guard on his way out the door. It’s then that Shatter makes the mistake of picking up a bag containing information he shouldn’t know.

Shatter 2As Shatter travels to Hong Kong for payment, he is followed and nearly killed. Upon meeting Hans Lieber (Anton Diffring, The Man Who Could Cheat Death, The Day The Clown Cried), he discovers that he’s been set up and is nothing more than a pawn in a convoluted political plot. He soon befriends the lovely Mai-Mee (played by the no-so-talented Lily Li) and Tai Pah (Lung Ti, a Bruce Lee wannabe). They travel around Hong Kong evading various gangsters and covert government agencies while trying to get the upper hand and secure their future. It’s here where the film falters.

The script was written by Don Houghton, who spent time writing for various British television shows, including Doctor Who, before moving over to Hammer for their dying days with such films as Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972), The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) and the only other Hammer – Shaw Brothers collaboration, Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. Not necessarily a stellar career but certainly not horrible either. Shatter didn’t need much plot to make it potentially exciting but the first misstep was casting Stuart Whitman in the lead role. He’s not an action star nor is he really sexy man leading material. He was in his 50s and, while it could have worked to have a more rugged and weary lead character, his heart didn’t seem to be in this film. Whitman was an accomplished actor but here he seems to be going through the motions. He was ill during the making of the movie, which caused numerous delays, and I believe it hurt his performance.

Shatter 3The real fault lies with the first director, Monte Hellman, who remained uncredited. Hellman only has 21 credits to his name spanning a 54 year time period. He started out working with Roger Corman, making his directorial debut with Beast from the Haunted Cave (1959) and actually directed some portions of The Terror (1963). He certainly had some well-known films under his belt going into Shatter, including Two-Lane Blacktop (1971). But in the Hong Kong streets, his actions sequences lacked excitement and were, at times, confusing. Visually speaking, Hong Kong is made to look like a slum, which apparently was not the intent. Michael Carreras was brought in to save the film but there was little he could do at that point. He had a long history with Hammer as a producer while directing and writing as well. However, Shatter would so discourage Carreras from the film making process, he never directed again and would produce only one more film before ending his career in 1979 while still a relatively young man in his 50s.

The score for the film is also very unnoteworthy. Shaw Brothers tried for a typical action score but Hammer was displeased and music director Philip Martell was brought in to rewrite it. The end result seemed rather cliché and couldn’t help with the haphazard action sequences and overly written sequences.

Shatter 4So where is Peter Cushing in all of this you ask? Well, he is listed as a “guest star”, which amounts to essentially three scenes that were shot in a minimal amount of time. Cushing plays government agent Rattwood and, as usual, his presence elevates the film from obscurity, but just barely. He does his usual top-notch job turning in a rather snobbish and less-than-pleasant government man who looks down upon Shatter as nothing more than a two-bit player in a much bigger game. It’s great as always to see Cushing and he comes along at just the right moments but his role is small, so don’t expect too much. This would be his 23rd and final Hammer film. In fact, Hammer itself was nearing the end as it only did a couple more films left before turning to television, then ultimately shutting down in the early 80s.

Shatter is worth watching for the history it holds but it will certainly leave you longing for something better. It will leave you saddened that the once great Hammer was at such a low point by 1974. Nevertheless, the movie can be found on DVD, although it is out-of-print and goes for more than it’s honestly worth. Check out the trailer on YouTube and judge for yourself. After all, it does feature at least a little Peter Cushing.

Dread Media – Nothing But The Night (1973)

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Nothing But the Night 73Time to get this appreciation month in gear with a look at a seldom talked about Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing collaboration from 1973, Nothing But The Night. This week on the Dread Media podcast, episode 455, I offer up my thoughts on this interesting flick which has a unique twist ending which ultimately salvages it from obscurity. Check out the movie on YouTube or track it down on DVD to join along in the fun. Then, be sure to come back later this week as both Cushing and Lee get some individual attention with some non-horror efforts on the seven seas and in the action realm.