After a long delay, I have finally obtained the BluRay for the best short horror films from around the world shown at the 2020 HP Lovecraft Film Festival (a streaming festival that year).
It’s an interesting batch, with only one film loosely based on a Lovecraft story, and a couple of others that might be called allusions to the works of HPL.
A pretty good US-made film in an atypical setting. What starts out as the usual, boring night at work for a country and western DJ/radio talk show host named Rooster turns into a bewildering experience in recursive horror when several of his call-ins request that he play an oldie they call “U14”.
Rooster has no clue what U14 is, if it’s a song title or a juke box number, but since so many people are asking for it, he has a look in the store room. After digging through stacks of old 45s, he finds a box containing a set of cassette tapes labeled U1, U2, and so on. One is labeled U14, so he takes it back up to the control room along with some antique equipment that will let him broadcast tapes.
This was an extra feature on the Daughters of Darkness BluRay. I’ve been meaning to review it for years. I was under the impression that it was an English-dubbed French film, but now that I watch it again, I see that I was wrong; it’s Spanish.
The plots of the two films are similar–a newly married couple is beset by an ancient but chic lesbian vampire–but the former is based on the legendary Erzsebet Bathory and her atrocities, and the latter is one of many adaptations of Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla.
We meet the newlywed couple in this film speeding along in a convertible. They are so newly married that the bride Susan (Maribel Martín) is still in her wedding gown with a full length veil. Her husband (Simón Andreu), who doesn’t seem to have a name, stops at a hotel so they can change. Susan doesn’t want to; she’d rather drive on “at 90 miles an hour”, she laughingly responds. But stop they do. Hubby leaves her on the front steps of the hotel with their luggage while he parks the car. No valet service here.
As she enters the hotel alone, Susan notices a woman seated inside a parked car, watching her.
A bellman shows her up to her room. As she starts to remove her veil and dress, a man with a stocking over his face emerges from the closet and attacks her. She lies in a faint while he tears open the front of her dress to rape her.
But when her husband comes upstairs a moment later, Susan is sitting alone on the bed. Her dress isn’t torn. The rape was some kind of terrible hallucination.
Susan tells her husband that she doesn’t want to stay in the hotel. “I don’t like it here.” And who can blame her, after that?
Amicus Studios was generally considered second-best in British horror after Hammer, but this anthology film is just the sort of thing they did so well during the 1960s and ’70s and are best remembered for: The House That Dripped Blood, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, and Asylum.
From Beyond the Grave is Amicus’s final horror anthology. It showcases four tales written by R. Chetwynd-Hayes–who is not an author I’m familiar with, so I can’t say how these segments compare to his original short stories.
The framing story features a dusty little antique shop named “Temptations, Ltd.” in an obscure back street in London, run by a mild mannered, equally dusty proprietor (Peter Cushing, playing it in a very understated manner). The premise connecting each story is that the type of customer you are determines your ultimate fate.
Our first visitor to the antique shop is Edward Charlton (David Warner), dressed in the mod style of the late ’60s. He is immediately attracted to an old gilt-framed mirror. The elderly proprietor wants £200 for it as a genuine antique, but Edward questions its authenticity and says he’ll give 25 quid for it. The proprietor accepts this offer without bargaining.
A little later, at a party in his flat, Edward boasts to his friends about how he cheated the old man by making him believe that the mirror was a reproduction. Edward estimates that it’s really about 400 years old.
One of his friends observes that “It looks like it belongs in a medium’s parlor– so let’s have a séance!”
In spite of some qualms by Edward’s girlfriend Pamela, they do. The rest of the party is keen and Edward claims certain mediumistic gifts.
His séance produces interesting results. Blasts of blue flame shoot up from the single candle on the table, and Edward rather incautiously invites whatever spirit he’s contacted to “come in.”
Neither he nor his friends notice that the mirror seems to be fogging over, as if the reflected room on the other side of the glass is filling up with mist.
The Horror in the Museum was a story that H.P. Lovecraft either co-wrote with Hazel Heald, or ghost-wrote based on an idea of hers (her version of events versus his). It appeared in Weird Tales coincidentally around the same time as the 1933 film Mystery of the Wax Museum came out; the two have similar settings, although the “Horror” is a bit more horrible.
Like The Curse of Yig, this is one of those Lovecraft stories I know that I’ve read, but can’t say I’m extremely familiar with. In some ways, that gives it an advantage over stories like Rats in the Walls or Haunter of the Dark that I practically know by heart; I first listened to this Dark Adventure Radio Theatre audio adaptation without expectations or close comparisons to the original text, although I did give the text a quick refresher read online after listening to it a couple of times.
This adaptation does stay fairly close to the original story, with the addition of one new prominent character and a bit of a twist at the end–neither of which is unusual for Dark Adventure. It also has one or two interesting things to say about achieving immortality through works of art. Not a unique sentiment, but in this particular case…
The audio drama begins with two Americans from Chicago visiting Madame Tussaud’s famous Wax Museum in London. Madame Tussaud’s is not the Museum of the title, where the Horror occurs, but it does introduce our two protagonists to it.
Steven Jones is an entrepreneur looking for a terrific new show to bring to the States. He isn’t very impressed with the historical waxworks he sees, but his publisher friend and potential business financier, Eleanor Patterson*, notices that the queue for the Chambers of Horrors is very long.
Then they see one wax figure that does intrigue: Dr. Dee, advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, astrologer, occultist, and reputed magician. In Lovecrafty circles, Dee is best known for his Latin translation of the Necronomicon. There’s something in the lifelike look and craftsmanship of this particular figure that leads Steven and Eleanor to inquire about the artist. They are given directions to the more obscure waxwork show of one George Rodgers.
The Curse of Yig was a collaborative effort of H.P. Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop. Bishop provided the idea of a pioneer in the Oklahoma Territory who was terrified of snakes. Lovecraft recrafted this basic concept, making it a psychological horror made manifest–and incidentally adding a new god to his pantheon: Yig, “an odd, half-anthropomorphic devil of highly arbitrary and capricious nature… not wholly evil, and was usually quite well-disposed toward those who gave proper respect to him and his children.”
But those foolish enough to harm the children of Yig (that is, snakes) could expect to feel the wrath of his terrible curse.
The story is one that I’d read some years ago, but not one of the Lovecraft stories that I could say I was extremely familiar with. I mean, I knew who Yig was when I first saw that Dark Adventure Radio Theatre was planning to do an adaptation of The Curse of Yig for their next audio drama, but could remember very little about who had been cursed, or why.
Listening to this new DART adventure before re-reading the text, I’m struck by how closely this adaptation has stuck to the structure of the original story, and I make note of the changes the DART guys have made to allow for the very different sensibilities of people nearly a century later.
At the end of Part 2, Romana was zapped by Vivian Fay and beamed out into some other as-yet unspecified place.
Sadly, this story, which has started out so well, begins to go downhill from here. While there are still some good scenes in the next two story parts, there’s a distinct shift from the trappings of folk horror to some rather silly science fiction.
It’s Doctor Who, so you have to expect all things that might be otherwise taken for supernatural events to have a scientific explanation, even a wonky sci-fi one. But did it have to be so-
Well, we’ll get to that when we come to it.
Over in the secret cellar at the Hall, formerly the home of Mr. DeVries before the stone-monsters got him, the Doctor and Professor Rumford are examining those paintings that were removed from the wall upstairs. All three ladies who used to own this house and the meadow where the stone circle sits look just like Vivian Fay.
Professor Rumford is surprised that Vivian never mentioned that she belonged to the Montcalm family.
She isn’t, the Doctor makes it clear. “She is the Montcalm family,” as well as the two other families that have owned the Hall since the Dissolution. Not to mention being the Mother Superior of the convent that was there before the house. And she probably manages the company that now owns the property that the stone circle is on.
Rumford, who’s still adjusting to these new kinds of ideas, objects. There’s a span of over a 150 years between the three women in the paintings.
The Doctor replies, “What’s 150 years when you’ve been around for 4000?”
For Vivian is the Cailleach, the Celtic goddess whom the Druids have been worshipping. (But that’s not who she really is either.)
Also known as The Devil’s Bride in the US, which is the title as it appears on the film in the version I have on BluRay.
This 1968 Hammer film, directed by Terence Fisher with screenplay by Richard Matheson, is adapted from a 1934 novel by Dennis Wheatley. Wheatley had researched into ancient religions, and had made the acquaintance of people like Aleister Crowley; much of what goes on in this story is grounded in the actual practices of black magic.
After the opening credits, which are full of occult symbols and demonic iconography, we meet our heroes, the elegant Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee), and the square-jawed and solid Rex van Rys (played by one actor but voiced by another, which is probably why he always seems a little detached even when he’s in the middle of the action).
It’s April of 1929, and the Duc is worried about the son of an old war buddy, Simon Aron. Even though Simon is now of age, de Richleau had promised his father that he’d look out for him, and the Duc intends to keep that promise no matter what. He tells Rex that he hasn’t seen Simon in three months.
Together, they pay a call on Simon at his new house and find that there’s a party going on. The drawing room is filled with an international group of well-dressed and sophisticated looking people with odd names like the Countess d’Urfe, Tanith Carlyle (Niké Arrighi), and Mr. Mocata (the suavely menacing Charles Grey, last seen here in The Legacy). There are 13 of them.
Simon tells his friends that these people are just a gathering of a little astronomical society he’s joined. Rex has no clue what’s going on, but the Duc knows very well and is appalled.
When the two are asked to leave before the meeting begins, the Duc asks to see the observatory at the top of the house. Simon takes them upstairs, but de Richleau seems more interested in the décor of the room than the telescopes–there’s a distinct astrological theme on the walls and the floor.
When he hears a noise coming from the closet, the Duc investigates and finds chickens in a basket. Not a catered dinner. Literally, two chickens in a large wicker basket.
Overshadowing the village of Vandorf, stands the Castle Borski.
From the turn of the century, a monster from an ancient age of history came to live here. No living thing survived and the spectre of death hovered in waiting for her next victim.
The above, slightly incoherent, text introduces this beautifully atmospheric but not-quite coherent Hammer horror film about a creature from ancient Greek mythology who, for reasons of her own, has decided to menace early 20th-century Bavaria.
It’s in Vandorf that the story begins, in an artist’s studio with a bit of implied, bareback nudity from the artist’s model. There’s no reason to get attached to these two people, but what happens to them will start the chain of events that leads our main characters into the plot.
The model, Sascha, wants to get married. Bruno, the artist, promises that they will when he gets a bit of money to pay off his debts. But Sascha can’t wait that long; there’s a baby on the way.
This being 1910, Bruno perceives the urgency of the situation. He heads out immediately to speak to Sascha’s father, even though she’s afraid that Daddy will kill him instead of giving them his blessing to get hastily married.
Sascha runs after Bruno as soon as she’s got some clothes on and follows him through the woods during a moonlit night. Eerie music that sounds almost like a woman singing tells us that the pregnancy and Daddy s reaction to it are the least of their problems.
Sure enough, Sascha sees something that makes her scream in terror and fall over.
Britain’s Amicus film studio was in many ways a sort of Hammer Jr. in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Its output is often confused with Hammer’s–so many of its films also star Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee–but they can be distinguished by their wider use of source material. No Dracula or Frankenstein sequels here, but anthologies based on short stories by Robert Bloch and less well-known horror authors, plus original story ideas, and the occasional obscure novel brought to light.
This particular film, with its lurid title, is based on a ghostly gothic novella with the more sedate title of Fengriffen. Its implied horrors are spiced up with some shocking ’70s red-paint gore, and the extensive use of a bloody severed hand crawling around. Its heroine and hero, an extremely pretty young couple (played by the extremely pretty young Stephanie Beacham and Ian Ogilvy), are supported by a cast of distinguished actors in small roles. And, yes, one of them is Peter Cushing.
Like Dragonwyck, it’s a Rebecca-ish story, and this film gives us a Rebecca-ish opening voiceover:
“In my dreams, I go back to the year 1795, to a time when I was happy. I was on my way to be married. I was going to the house in which I was to find my days filled with fear, my nights filled with horror.”
Sir Charles Fengriffen and his fiancée Catherine are riding toward his home, Fengriffen, in a carriage. The couple are not yet married, so they are accompanied and chaperoned by her Aunt Edith. Catherine is viewing her future home for the first time.
Fengriffen House, when we first see it, is a place many people will immediately recognize. Oakley Court is a 5-star hotel just outside of Windsor today, but in the 1960s and ’70s it was abandoned. British film studios often made use of its handsome exterior and rooms within. TheRocky Horror Picture Show would be the most famous example. Some viewers may feel the urge to sing “There’s a liiiiiiiiiiight, over at the Frankenstein Place” at the sight of it.
I’m a little bit sad looking at it for this review; I had made reservations to have tea there in July, and of course that whole trip had to be cancelled.
Inside, Catherine tours the rooms of her new home. Her first impression, and question are, “What a lovely old house. Is there a ghost?”
“Ghosts galore,” Charles assures her, and lists a few in a joking manner. He doesn’t mention the one that will be so destructive to both of them. At this point, he doesn’t believe in it.
The Horror at Red Hook was written in 1925, during that period when H.P. Lovecraft was living in Brooklyn after his marriage to Sonia Greene. New York City came as a culture shock to this retiring Providence boy, especially given the diverse ethnicity of immigrants who came from all over the world. The story expresses something of his suspicion of foreign people who didn’t look like the kind of people he was familiar with, enacting odd customs and speaking in languages he didn’t understand, as well as reflects his general, personal unhappiness with his surroundings.
Lovecraft’s original story is about a man named Thomas Malone, a New York police detective who has been sent to recover in a rural part of Rhode Island after a traumatic experience involving the collapse of a brick building and the deaths of a number of people in the slums of Red Hook. He can’t even abide the sight of a brick building.
In this Dark Adventure Radio Theatre adaptation, Malone (voiced by Sean Branney) is under a psychiatrist’s care during his enforced stay in the country. His story is told as part of his psychotherapy; the doctor urges him to speak of the horrors connected to that experience–everything he’s tried so hard to forget.
Malone tells the doctor that he wouldn’t understand. He lacks imagination.
“To hint to an unimaginative man of a horror beyond all human conception, a horror of houses, and blocks, and cities diseased with evil dragged from Elder worlds… I’d be pacing inside a padded cell instead strolling country lanes.”
But of course the doctor insists on hearing it, and Malone’s story of what happened in Red Hook unfolds in flashback.