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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The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 2

This second audio-drama boxed set from Big Finish carries on the adventures of detective Madame Vastra and her assistants as presented in The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 1.

The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 2

Dining With Death

The first episode is noteworthy in that it’s written by Dan Starkey, who plays Strax.

Even back in the 1890s, Earth was a common meeting-place for various aliens, being both an out-of-the-way galactic backwater and neutral territory. When representatives of two great empires, attempting to negotiate a peace settlement, are blown up along with half the restaurant where they were having dinner, Madame Vastra ends up agreeing to act as a facilitator for further diplomatic talks–which will take place at her home.

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Afterward

Afterward

In the early ’80s, my local PBS station showed a few episodes of Shades of Darkness, an anthology series of ghostly and other paranormal tales from Granada Television in the UK, primarily based on short stories by women writers such as Edith Wharton and Elizabeth Bowen. I’d forgotten most of them over the years, until I saw that some (but not all) of these episodes were available in a DVD set.

This story was the one I remembered best and most wanted to see again; I think I saw it even before I’d read the Wharton story it’s based upon.

It’s around 1910. Mrs. Stair, who won’t be seen again after this first scene, is showing the Boynes, Mary (Kate Harper) and Ned (Michael Shannon), an American couple from Waukesha, Wisconsin, around an empty, old English country house that’s for sale.

All the things that would make the house undesirable for other prospective buyers make it the Boynes’ ideal home: It’s 7 miles from the nearest rail station, no electric light, and primitive plumbing. The couple have come into a lot of money through Ned’s sudden windfall with Blue Star Mining stock, which has enabled him to retire 20 years earlier than planned. Looking around LyngHe intends spend his days  writing a book on economics, and he and Mary are looking for just such a place as Lyng to live out their long-standing dream of retreating to the remote peace and quiet of a “genuine Elizabethan manor.”

When they hear that there’s a ghost, they’re delighted. Ned doesn’t want to “drive 10 miles to see someone else’s ghost”; he wants a haunted house of his very own. But both he and Mary are puzzled when Mrs. Stair tells them that, according to local legend, you don’t know you’ve seen the Lyng ghost until a long time afterward.

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Best of H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Vol. 2

The second part of this anthology of the best short films from the annual Festival. There are more adaptations of Lovecraft stories on this DVD than on Part 1.

The Shunned House (2012)

This is a modern-day and pretty good retelling of Lovecraft’s story. Water drips from the leaf-clogged end of a gutter spout as Uncle Eli Whipple and his nephew Robert drive up to the house and park in the street out front.

“Jesus!” exclaims Robert as he looks it over. “Did they build this place knowing it was going to be a haunted house?”

The Shunned House

I’ve been to the Shunned House. It doesn’t look like this.

Later dialog will establish that Eli often goes on this sort of ghost-hunting adventure, and his nephew enjoys going along. The pair has brought along electronic equipment and a camcorder. Robert records his uncle as they enter the house; Eli makes an introductory statement about the Shunned House’s long history of “pain, suffering, misery, death.”

The dripping from the gutter stops abruptly as they go inside.

As they go down into the basement, Uncle Eli continues to tell us pretty much the same story of the people who died in the house or suffered strange illnesses as related in Lovecraft’s original story, but with the date of events moved up from the Colonial era to the 19th and 20th century. Robert makes note of a vaguely man-shaped dark patch on one wall, but his uncle says it’s probably water damage.

They settle down to set up their equipment. When Robert turns on the EMF detector, it fairly shrills with whatever energy it’s picking up. After checking the batteries, he decides that it’s malfunctioning and turns it off again while Eli carries on with his story.

Unnoticed by either man, that dark patch spreads across the ceiling.

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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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Burnt Offerings

After Trilogy of Terror, Karen Black would work with Dark Shadows‘ producer / director Dan Curtis on one more horror film–this time for the big screen. She wasn’t the only star to feature; Curtis also snagged the major talents of Oliver Reed and Bette Davis (not to mention great character actors Eileen Heckart and Burgess Meredith) for this unusual haunted-house drama. The screenplay, adapted from a novel, was done by William F. Nolan, who also adapted the first two segments of Trilogy.

Black and Reed are Marian and Ben Rolf, a couple tired of the urban malaise of decaying mid-1970s New York and looking for a place to get away with their son David and Ben’s Aunt Elizabeth (Davis). They’ve driven out into the country (I think Long Island, but that’s not clear) to look at a house they’ve seen advertised for a summer rental.

The House

As they drive up, their first response is “This can’t be the place!” Not this huge and beautiful, but sadly dilapidated, house; there must be a cottage or smaller guest-house on the grounds.

But, no, this is it. Once inside, the Rolfs meet the Allardyces, the kind of nutty elderly brother and sister (Meredith and Heckart) who own the place. The rent for three months is amazingly cheap, $900 for the whole summer, but there are a couple of conditions.

First, the Rolfs will have to look after the place for themselves–the Allardyces’ handyman won’t be present for cleaning and repairs. But Roz Allardyce assures them that “The house takes care of itself.” She also asks if Marian will “love the house as Brother and I do?”

Second, while the brother and sister will be away on vacation, their 85-year-old The Allardycesmother will remain here. She won’t be a bother, will keep to her rooms up at the top of the house, listening to her music and working on her collection of photographs. “The memories of a lifetime.” All the Rolfs will have to do is bring her meals up to her on a tray three times a day.

One odd thing occurs that the Rolfs don’t notice. Davy is out playing in the garden while the grown-ups are discussing terms. He skins his knee climbing on the gazebo. After the Rolfs depart, one of the dead geraniums from the greenhouse that the handyman was about to throw out suddenly grows a new, green shoot.

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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Welcome to my childhood nightmare.

Goblins behind books

I first saw this 1973 made-for-TV movie when I was 9, and it haunted me for years. I had nightmares related to it as late as 17, even after I’d seen the movie again and was old enough to realize that its special effects were on the cheap side.

Even now, as a grown-up who’s seen it multiple times, something of that childhood fear still lingers in the back of my mind, impossible to shake. Just last year, when I pulled open an access panel in the wall for one my house utilities and gazed down into the black space between the walls, I couldn’t help thinking, “I hope there aren’t any little goblins living down in there.”

I’ve been considering on and off for years acquiring this movie on DVD and reviewing it; when I was purchasing Trilogy of Terror recently and Amazon thought I might like this too, I finally took the plunge. And here we are.

The movie starts with a hissing black cat, who has nothing to do with the story and will never be seen again. Over a shot of a large and handsome old Victorian house looking spooky in the night-time, we hear a number of creepy whispered voices having a conversation. The one who answers the others’ questions appears to be in charge:

“Will she come?”

“Do you think she’ll come?”

“She will. You know she will.”

“But when? When?”

“Very soon. It’s just a matter of time, of waiting for awhile. All we have to do is bide our time. Bide our time.”

“But it’s been so long. So many years. We wish she’d come and set us free. Set us free.”

“Patience, please. Patience. We’ve all the time in the world. All the time in the world.”

“In the world! All the time, to set us free in the world!”

Then they all laugh in a diabolical kind of way.

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H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Best of 2017

The second batch of best short films presented by the Lovecraft Film Festival. I saw most of these at the NecronomiCon in 2017, but didn’t know which ones would be selected as “best.”

I’m surprised that a couple of those I found most memorable didn’t show up on this DVD–in particular, a modern adaptation of The Picture in the House where a woman living in an apartment building meets her neighbor during a city-wide blackout. For me, the most important criteria for judging horror films (even very short ones), is how they affect me afterwards. Do they stick in my mind long after I’ve seen them? Do they make me reluctant to turn out the lights or leave the closet door ajar?

Anyway, here are the Film Festival’s choices:

There Is No Door

This isn’t one I’ve seen before, but it’s my favorite of this DVD because it features one of my favorite horror themes–the history of the bad place repeats itself over and over again with variations. I can’t connect it to any particular Lovecraft story, but it is unsettling because what happens in the house is never fully explained.

There is no door

This is the story of a girl named Sam, played by four different actors in different stages of her life as she witnesses inexplicable events in her family home.

In the first scene, Sam is about 9 or 10. Crouched on the stairs, she listens to her Uncle Rob talking to her mother; Mom pleads with him, “You don’t have to do this,” but he insists, “It’s time.”

Uncle Rob, teary-eyed but not answering her questions, speaks briefly to little Sam when he sees her, then disappears when she turns away from him (we see him duck down as she turns to go upstairs).

When Sam asks her mother where Uncle Rob went, Mom doesn’t answer either, but she’s burning a photo of her brother that had been on the living-room mantelpiece; she drops the ashes into a little urn that sits among the family photos.
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H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Best of 2018

The H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival is an annual event that’s held in alternate years in Portland, Oregon, and in Providence, Rhode Island. I haven’t been to the Festival, but the couple who organize it come to the NecronomiCon to show what they consider the best short films for that year. These films are based on Lovecraft’s stories or those of other macabre writers, or may just be Lovecraftian in subject or tone.

On my recent trip to Providence, I not only watched the latest batch, but  bought DVDs of the best short films from earlier years. I’d seen some of them during my previous visit in 2017 and hadn’t forgotten them.

I’m going to look at the most recent set first, and go back from there.

Echoes in the Ice

The plot of this first short Canadian film recalls The Thing. A group of scientists in the Arctic arrives at an abandoned research station (the name of which is Pickman-Derby) to find out what happened. The researchers who were working there have all disappeared. The power is off and the rooms are freezing.

Exploring the station for clues, the group discovers a door that’s been chained shut on the lowest level. StatueWhen they break the lock to get inside, they find a monstrous statue that looks vaguely Cthulhu-esque but without the face-tentacles. It’s sitting in the middle of what they call a “well” but looks more like a fountain pool to me. The statue and well appear to have been here for a very long time, and are perhaps the reason this base was built up around them.

The water in the well has glistening fragments floating on the surface that respond by forming into new patterns when one of the men reaches out toward them. The water is almost hypnotically attractive, and he almost touches the surface before one of others stops him.

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