Movies Till Dawn: #MonsterSquadGoals

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires” (1974, Shout! Factory) Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) joins a family of Chinese martial artists in their fight against a vampire cult led by his old nemesis, Count Dracula. Hammer Films capped their Dracula franchise with this offbeat collaboration with Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers Studio, which while not one of their best efforts – the dialogue is particularly silly, and John Forbes-Robertson is saddled with the unenviable task of replacing Christopher Lee as the Count – is also terrific pulp-style fun. Director Roy Ward Baker (with uncredited assistance from director Chang Cheh of “Five Deadly Venoms” fame) orchestrates some impressive fight sequences featuring Shaw stars David Chiang, Lau Kar-wing and Shih Szu, and well as striking shots of the vampires’ zombie army rising from their graves and hopping (as jiangshi should) into battle. Shout’s Blu-ray includes both a 2K restoration of the UK cut, as well as the American edit, known as “The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula,” as well as commentary by Hammer vampire scholar Bruce G. Hallenbeck and an interview with Hong Kong film expert Rick Baker.

Frankenstein 1970” (1958, Warner Archives Collection) The disfigured descendant (Boris Karloff) of the first monster-making Frankenstein loans out the family castle to a TV crew making a horror movie in order to buy an atomic reactor (!) for his own reanimated creation. Low-budget sci-fi/creature feature – which does not appear to take place in 1970 – is agreeable Saturday afternoon-style junk food, thanks to an uncharacteristically overripe performance by Karloff (and a remarkably stiff turn by Los Angeles TV and radio host Tom Duggan) and a wonderfully goofy monster that, as the “Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film” rightfully notes, sports a head that resembles a trash can wrapped in bandages (what’s under the gauze turns out to be pretty bizarre, too). Director Howard W. Koch went on to produce “Airplane!” and “Ghost”; Warner Archives’ widescreen Blu-ray includes lively commentary by co-star Charlotte Austin and historians Tom Weaver and Bob Burns.

Vampyres” (1974, Arrow Video) Vacationing Brits Sally Faulkner and Brian Deacon discover that they’ve parked their camper near a mansion owned by Marianne Morris and Anulka, a glam pair given to diaphanous gowns, smoldering looks and draining the blood of their captive lovers/victims. Initially marketed as exploitation in America and abroad, Spanish director Jose Larraz doesn’t shy away from the graphic aspects of his vampires’ evening activities, but also places equal emphasis on the foreboding, dreamlike atmosphere of their home and desolate)grounds, and balances the more grisly/mature material with well-orchestrated suspense. The result hews closer to Harry Kumel‘s elegant “Daughters of Darkness” or even Abel Ferrara’s “The Addiction” than grindhouse fare; Arrow’s Blu-ray edition – part of its three-disc, limited edition “Blood Hunger” set, which includes Larraz’s psycho-thriller “Whirlpool” and the hallucinatory “Coming of Sin” – offers interviews with the cast and primary crew, commentary by historian Kat Ellinger and an extensive collection of trailers, promo photos and art, including a script excerpt detailing a lost scene.

Ghosts of Mars” (2001, Mill Creek Entertainment) Space sheriff Natasha Henstridge and wanted man Ice Cube partner up to fight an army of Mars colonists possessed by the vengeful spirits of the Red Planet’s previous occupants. Director John Carpenter blends his appreciation for Westerns and recurring siege tropes (see “Assault on Precinct 13“) with elements of pulp space opera and a grindhouse aesthetic (as well as a touch of Mario Bava’s “Planet of the Vampires“) for this brawny sci-fi thriller; the dialogue and special effects are woeful, but the leads and supporting cast – a typically eclectic array of character actors, including Clea DuVall, Joanna Cassidy, Pam Grier, and Peter Jason, and a pre-stardom Jason Statham – appear to be having fun playing cowboys on Mars, and that enthusiasm might translate to those who appreciate Carpenter’s work in the minors (“Escape from L.A.,” “Vampires“). Mill Creek’s Blu-ray includes commentary by Carpenter and making-of featurettes on the special effects and thrashy soundtrack by Carpenter with help from Anthrax, Buckethead, Robin Finck and Steve Vai.

Scream and Screan Again” (1970, Kino Lorber) Baffling totalitarian horror that loosely connects a series of vampire-styled murders in London with mysterious experiments conducted by Vincent Price, clandestine dealings between British Intelligence (headed by Christopher Lee) and an unnamed Eastern Bloc country (Peter Cushing is glimpsed briefly as a military officer), and a young man in a hospital who discovers, to his horror, that someone is gradually removing his limbs as he sleeps. Fritz Lang is reportedly to have admired this surreal sci-fi effort by Gordon Hessler (who went on to direct “Cry of the Banshee” and “Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park”!), who flirts with the sort of systemic corruption and dehumanizing political forces seen in Lang’s “Mabuse” films; the overall mood of paranoia and disorientation is broken occasionally by splashes of gore, most notably Michael Gothard preying on clubgoers at the futuristic Hatchetts Playground (where the Amen Corner with Andy Fairweather Low can be seen performing) and a messy finale at Price’s laboratory. Kino’s Special Edition Blu-ray includes both the American and UK versions of the film, as well as informative commentary by Tim Lucas and an episode of “Trailers from Hell” with “Masters of Horror” producer Mick Garris.

The Valley of Gwangi” (1969, Warner Archives Collection) Former Wild West Show stuntman James Franciscus hopes to revive the flagging fortunes of Gila Golan‘s rodeo show by capturing and exhibiting Gwangi, a carnivorous dinosaur reported to live with other prehistoric creatures in a hidden valley in the Mexican desert. Stop-motion animation pioneer Ray Harryhausen inherited “Gwangi” from his mentor, Willis O’Brien (“King Kong”), and applied his meticulous stop-motion process to its menagerie of dinosaurs, most notably in one sequence where live actors are seen lassoing the animated Gwangi in the same frame; though his efforts did not translate into a box office success, “Gwangi” remains a favorite of Harryhausen fans and devotees of screen dinosaurs; Warner Archive’s Blu-ray includes a 2003 interview with Harryhausen about the film, as well as an amusing anecdote about his daughter’s affection for the Gwangi model.

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About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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