Doctor Who: The Movie

Paul McGann as Doctor Who

I had mixed feelings about this made-for-TV movie when it first aired in 1996.

On the one hand, it was the first new Doctor Who since the original long-running series had finally been cancelled in 1989. I’d stopped watching it by then anyway, but had fond memories of the Doctors I’d watched growing up and would have liked to see the show come back again.

On the other hand, the movie was made by Fox TV in cooperation with the BBC and Universal Studios with the prospect of introducing a new version of the series in America.

While a few British series have been successfully adapted into US versions, the odds are against it. What made the UK show successful is more often altered out of recognition to suit US television standards, or simply doesn’t translate from one country to the other. For example, there have been at least two attempts to transplant Fawlty Towers, both of which crashed and burned. The science fiction/time travel element of Doctor Who might survive, but much of the charm and whimsy of the character would be lost.

So I watched it with a certain amount of hope and trepidation.  And it was okay. I liked Paul McGann’s Doctor, but there were a couple of things in the story that really irritated me.

The movie received good ratings when it aired on the BBC, but not so great on Fox. There was no new series at that time; Doctor Who would have to wait until 2005 to return to television.

I thought little more about this movie for 20-plus years unless I had some reason to list actors who played the Doctor. But since I’ve been viewing and writing reviews of old Doctor Who episodes recently, I thought I’d give it another look.

It’s not as disappointing as I remembered it being in 1996. Viewing it again after 15 years of modern Who, I can see it as the transition between the old and new series. One of the things I disliked about it still bothers me. The other… well, the Doctor does that all the time these days and I’ve gotten used to it.

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The Devil Rides Out

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.

The Devil Rides Out

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.

Satanists party

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.

After he sees the chickens, de Richleau grabs Simon by the lapels and tells him that he’d rather see him dead than dabbling in black magic.
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The Gorgon

Gorgon reflection

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 a chain of events to lead 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.

Artist and model Stone hand

Sure enough, Sascha sees something that makes her scream in terror and fall over.

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And Now the Screaming Starts

Phantom Hand

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.”

Charles and Catherine

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. The Rocky 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.

Fengriffen House

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Haunted Palace

This film has been on my mind for a long time. A quick search of my own blog reviews shows me that I’ve mentioned it 4 times over the past 6 years:

“The same sort of thing happened to Vincent Price and Debra Paget in The Haunted Palace, and Debra stuck around too. Portrait of Joseph CurwinI don’t know why. It never ends well. When your husband’s been possessed by an evil ancestor he strongly resembles, it’s much more reasonable to leave your stately haunted home for a little while and wait to see if he has the willpower to reassert his own personality from a safe distance.”

-2014, Night of Dark Shadows

“…the Poe’d-up Haunted Palace, starring Vincent Price and Debra Paget in a Victorian gothic version with putty-faced mutants roaming the misty streets of Arkham.”

2016, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

“…AIP’s Lovecraft-dressed-up-as-Poe Haunted Palace starring Vincent Price (which I really am going to review one of these days)…”

-2018, The Resurrected

“The film shown here is the ending of that Poe’d-up adaptation of Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” Haunted Palace (which I really am going to review one of these days; I’ve been saying so for years). “

-2019, Madhouse

That day has arrived finally!

The misty streets of Arkham

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The Ballad of Tam Lin

I had never heard of this obscure 1970 film until I read someone else’s review of it last fall. I was so intrigued by the description that I sought my own DVD copy to watch. As the narrator explains early on:

“There is a story in verse that belongs to this part of the country, the border of England and Scotland. It is hundreds of years old. It tells the adventures of a young man held in thrall by the Queen of the Faeries… A dangerous lady. It is called the Ballad of Tam Lin.”

Tam Lin panel

The film retells this old folk ballad in a modern setting. It is Roddy McDowall’s only film as a director (It was his work on this that kept him from playing Cornelius in Beneath the Planet of the Apes).

The film begins with a young black man in cool-cat 1960s clothes playing a sultry sax while sitting in the front hall of a grand London townhouse on a staircase beneath a crystal chandelier. He’s seen through a glass panel with frosted images painted on it which depict people wearing medieval clothes and enacting key scenes from the old ballad–and also showing us the plot of the story we’re about to see.

The camera then takes us upstairs past the chandelier and into a vast white bedroom containing a vast white bed. Two naked people recline beneath the sheets, Tom Lynn (Ian McShane) and Michaela “Mickey” Cazaret (Ava Gardner). They have the following post-coital conversation:

Tom: “I love you.”
Mickey: “I’m immensely old.”
Tom: “It doesn’t matter.”
Mickey: “It doesn’t matter to you. You grow older every year. I grow older every sordid second.”

He insists again that it doesn’t matter. She grows more beautiful with age.
She responds, “I love you…. I will love you and leave you for dead.”

Tom and Mickey

He should be paying more attention to her side of the conversation, but he’s too young and besotted. Instead, he kisses her, and they go at it again.

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Die Farbe

Or, in English: The Color (out of Space)

The Color out of SpaceThis 2010 German film is at its center a faithful retelling of HP Lovecraft’s novella, moved to a new setting: Germany just before World War II and just afterwards, with a more modern framing story.

I only know a handful of German words–the useful phrases that a tourist learns while traveling, and the useless ones picked up from WWII movies–but most of this story is told so clearly in visual images or adheres closely enough to Lovecraft’s familiar tale that I can follow it without turning on the subtitles.

Anyway, the first part is in English.

Old Dr. Davis has flown from the US to Frankfurt, then disappeared. His son Jonathan (who is supposed to be American, but I find his accent extremely suspect) goes to Germany to try and find him.

Dr. DavisBefore Jonathan leaves on his journey, he speaks to an old friend of his father’s at Miskatonic U, who recalls that Dad was stationed as an army medic at the end of the War around Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg. Dr. Davis hadn’t visited Germany since then and has no other connection to that country, so this is the only clue Jonathan has as to where his father might’ve gone.

Arriving in Germany, he rents a car and drives around the Wurttemberg Forest area until he encounters a detour; an empty valley is being flooded to create a reservoir. The road that used to lead through it is already impassable under water. A narrow dirt road winds around the edge of the new lake. Jonathan takes this through the forest, stopping at one point to get out and look around. The lake is visible through the trees.

PassportThere’s a feeling that something strange and unsettling is going on in this place: The wings on a dragonfly audibly snap shut when it lands on a leaf. A toad appears to be watching Jonathan from its hole.

What Jonathan doesn’t see before he gets back into his car is an American passport lying on ground not far from the road.

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Madhouse

This 1974 film is on the flip slide of the Theatre of Blood DVD. If not for that, I don’t suppose I would’ve known about it or been able to watch it repeatedly. I’m certain I never saw it when I watched these kinds of movies on late-night TV in the 1970s and ‘80s. It’s an AIP/Amicus collaboration, featuring one major horror-film icon from each studio: Vincent Price and Peter Cushing.

Dr. DeathWe start with a scene set 12 years ago at a New Year’s Eve party in Hollywood, although it doesn’t look much like the early ‘60s. Horror-film star Paul Toombes (Price) is showing the latest film from his wildly successful series of Dr. Death movies.

AIP’s contribution to this film wasn’t just Vincent Price for the current project, but Price’s earlier work. The clips from the Dr. Death movies that we’ll see throughout Madhouse are actually from Roger Corman’s mostly Poe-based AIP films. These were the movies I did watch on late-night TV in my youth, so part of the fun in watching this is being able to identify them.

The film shown here is the ending of that Poe’d-up adaptation of Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” Haunted Palace (which I really am going to review one of these days; I’ve been saying so for years). It’s been edited to dub in a line or two about Dr. Death and to insert shots of Price in his distinctive Dr. Death makeup.

After the film is over, Paul announces his engagement to Ellen, an actress much younger than himself. Among the people there to congratulate the couple is an old acquaintance of the prospective bride, Oliver Quayle (Robert Quarry); he’s is a slimy producer who makes adult films, and he immediately spoils things by cheerfully informing Paul that Ellen began her career by working for him in nudie movies. Paul is horrified and takes this to mean that she’s “on the make” and only marrying him for his money. The engagement is off, which puts a damper on the party.

Paul goes off to sulk and Ellen goes upstairs to cry and powder her nose at a fancy and well-lit vanity table—and then get murdered by someone dressed in the Dr. Death cloak, fedora, and black gloves, wearing a skull-mask.

Dead Ellen

After the opening credits, Paul realizes that his fiancée’s early career has nothing to do with her feelings for him and goes to apologize to her for being an ass. He finds her sitting at the vanity table just at the stroke of midnight, but when he touches her, her head falls off.

This beheading has left surprisingly little blood on the fluffy white carpet or furniture.

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The Witches

Also known as The Devil’s Own, which was the title of the book this film was based on.

The Witches is a fairly obscure and peculiar little mid-60s film from the British Hammer Studio. The screenplay was written by Nigel Kneale, but it’s not his original material. It stars an actress one doesn’t normally associate with horror films: Joan Fontaine. Yes, that Joan Fontaine, of Rebecca, Suspicion, and Jane Eyre. The great actresses of her generation did dabble in horror during this period, late in their careers, and this is her turn. IMDB has a story that she bought the rights to the book so she could star in the movie version, then retired when it flopped. I’ve no idea how much of that’s true.

African knifeThere’s one other very peculiar peculiarity about this film, but I’ll get to that later.

Joan plays Gwen Mayfield, a missionary / teacher. We meet her in the opening scenes in an unnamed African country; the local witch-doctor has turned  his tribe against the missionaries, and the school where Gwen teaches is under attack. Gwen is packing up the school to make her escape, but she doesn’t get out in time. A group of men in enormous decorated masks come into the school, and the witch-doctor does something undefined but horrible to her. That he’d “eat your soul” is what the native men who worked for Gwen were afraid of, and she pooh-poohed that idea as nonsense only minutes before.

A year or so later, after recovering from a nervous breakdown following this incident, Gwen is back in England. She takes up a job teaching at the small and remote village of Heddaby, and finds that she hasn’t gotten away from witchcraft after all.

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The Fog

Midnight til one belongs to the dead.Not John Carpenter’s best film (that would probably be The Thing), or my favorite of his (which is Prince of Darkness), but it’s the one that’s got a ghost story in it, so I’m including this one in my blogs for the Halloween season.

We start right off with the story, as told to us and a group of children gathered on a beach by an elderly man (John Houseman, who won’t be seen again after this introduction). As the hour of midnight approaches, he says that they have time for just one more tale.

It’s April 20, 1980; the 21st–which is about 5 minutes off–will be the 100th anniversary of the wreck of the Elizabeth Dane. The clipper ship lost its way in a sudden and unnaturally thick fog off nearby Spivey Point, when the crew spotted a light shining through the fog. The ship sailed toward it, perhaps mistaking it for the Point’s lighthouse, but the light was actually that of a bonfire–much like the one they’re all seated around. The Elizabeth Dane foundered on the sharp coastal rocks and sank. The old man makes much of the crew’s drowning, how their lungs filled with salt water and their eyes remained open as they sunk into the depths of the bay. After the ship had gone down with all aboard, the remarkably thick fog disappeared as quickly as it had come.

He concludes:

“But it is told by the fishermen, and their fathers and grandfathers, that when the fog returns to Antonio Bay, the men at the bottom of the sea, out in the water by Spivey Point, will rise up and search for the campfire that led them to their dark and icy death.”

Telling ghost stories around the campfire

Goodnight, kids! Sleep well.

Nothing horrible happens to the group on the beach, but all over the town of Antonio Bay, strange things begin to happen after midnight.
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