Friday 17 November 2023

A Challenge for Robin Hood (1967)


The third and final movie from Hammer Productions based on the legendary folk hero of Nottinghamshire, Robin Hood. As said before these movies are not connected, no story arc is contained within this trilogy. Thing is, there is no Robin Hood in this feature, so why does the title contain the name? (obviously name recognition).

In this film we are actually given more of an origin tale. Things are changed up a bit to offer a more fresh approach and this is admittedly a welcome angle as there are only so many times you can tell the same old story which everyone knows by heart. In this take Robin Hood is called Robin De Courtenay, the cousin of Henry (somewhat good) and Roger (downright evil) De Courtenay whose dying elderly father Sir John is a wealthy Norman nobleman. Upon his death bed Sir John divides his castle and wealth between the three men which unsurprisingly pisses off the dastardly Roger. Roger proceeds to murder Henry using Robin's knife in order to lay the blame on Robin. Robin thusly flees into the forest and joins up with a band of Saxons whom he had helped earlier on at the start of the film.

There are mentions of Richard the Lionheart, there is no Prince John. Robin is part of a wealthy Norman family. Will Scarlet and Little John appear to be servants or retainers of Sir John and not part of the merry men. Robin's main enemies are Roger De Courtenay and the Sheriff of Nottingham. And Maid Marian has a slight name alteration and initially isn't the object of Robin's affection! Marian's own maid appears to take that role. Other characters such as Much, Tuck, and Alan-a-Dale are present and correct.

So they take some liberties with the story which is fine, but what about everything else? Well firstly casting for me was a bit of a mixed bag really. Barrie Ingham as Robin visually speaking was way off for me. This guy looked more like a smooth 60's lounge singer and far too clean-cut for the role. Sure I get he's supposed to be a nobleman here but the hair, sideburns all looked too modern-day (for the time). Obviously Friar Tuck's gonna Friar Tuck and Marion isn't hard to get right, but the rest of the gang all looked pretty generic to me, nothing really unique going on here. Don't get me wrong I'm not expecting 'Mad Max' in Sherwood but maybe something to distinguish the odd outlaw. Villain wise again it's pretty standard fair but with Peter Blythe looking a bit Freddie Mercury-esque as Roger De Courtenay but suitably dastardly. This was always one of Hammer's problems in my opinion, the era tended to shine through too much in their casting. You could easily guess this was probably made in the 60's down to the way the cast looks, a major negative for any historical feature.

There is swashbuckling aplenty for sure but it certainly lacks the spritely gloss of the famous Errol Flynn picture and their own second feature 'Sword of Sherwood Forest'; but it does easily defeat their first foray into the woods with the weak 'Men of Sherwood Forest'. The film starts off quite dark with Roger evilly shooting a man in the back with an arrow and then his servant trying to murder the child witness, but it all quickly devolves into the inevitable hammy affair you'd come to expect. Not much blood (if any) and plenty of fake-looking swords, heck they even battle it out with a pie fight in one scene! Don't get me wrong it all looks terrific as Hammer features often did, very reliable on that front, but boy are some of those Norman troops useless.

I think the one thing that kinda threw me here was the altering of the classic folklore. I get the need for a change as you can't remake the same old Robin Hood story every time but there was something about this that felt off, like a poor man's equivalent that didn't have the full rights to the story. A lot of it for me was the casting which I just didn't really connect with. They also take the odd bit of classic lore and just give it a spin such as Robin's fight against Little John now takes place inside the castle. There is also no archery tournament here but a similar setup (a fair) which sees said Robin fight against Little John, whereupon he collects a prize (not a golden arrow). They also give a small bit of backstory for how they all end up wearing green (as up until then they are all wearing various period attire) which was cool. Shame all their attire is always spotlessly clean, ugh! 

Well they're definitely men in green tights that's for sure, but there isn't a great deal of robbing from the rich to give to the poor this time. A dash of period-era political intrigue and a whole lot of Robin's gang versus Roger's gang. The bad guys are easily the more interesting whilst lounge lizard Robin's boys are all a bit cookie-cutter. I didn't hate this but I didn't really like it either. It just didn't really feel like Robin Hood. I should also point out that they appeared to film outdoor locations at Bodiam Castle, the same as they did for 'The Men of Sherwood Forest'. A bit silly as you can clearly tell it's the same location and this might fool some into thinking the films are connected. Oh well.


Friday 27 October 2023

Captain Clegg (1962)


A rather unusual and not particularly intimidating title for a horror picture. The alternate US title of 'Night Creatures' sounds better but doesn't really fit the bill. I was actually quite surprised to discover this rather tacky, so-called horror, is actually loosely based on a series of adventure books which in turn were loosely based on actual historical events of the 18th Century. Lots of smuggling going on along the South East coast of Kent back then it seems.

This creepy tale revolves around a Captain investigating a potential smuggling operation in and around a small coastal village that just so happens to have a supposed ghosty problem. The village is apparently run by the seemingly inconspicuous village parson (Peter Cushing) who, behind the scenes, does actually run the smuggling operation. The village's ghost problem appears to be a ruse in order to keep people away from their smuggling activities late at night. But does the parson hold a deep dark secret in his past?

Now I know I have given the entire game away with that little plot summary but trust me, it's all pretty easy to see right from the start. This is indeed what you might describe as a charming little British horror flick. I'm sure back in 1962 it was possibly seen as quite scary but these days it's an utterly harmless affair. Again the one thing that lured me into watching this was the usual Hammer casting of Cushing and Oliver Reed. Both actors aren't exactly rocking the boat in terms of range here but both deliver exactly what you would expect in a feature like this. Cushing of course being the highlight with his bony elongated figure and deliciously calm yet devious manner perfectly fitting the conniving parson. His hairstyle (wig) also gave the character a nice religiously eerie presence.

As with almost every Hammer film the visuals are gorgeous and really draw you in. All the sets, props, and costumes (which I'm sure are reused from other films) look wonderfully authentic although I'm also sure they're probably not entirely period-accurate. Like many Hammer productions it's all about the visuals and the thrills and not so much the historical accuracy. Nevertheless they all do the job, alas the same cannot be said for the various location shoots which border on comical at times. Clearly this wasn't filmed around Romney Marshes where the story is set and bizarrely most of the night scenes appeared to have been shot during the day and they've tried to alter the image after the fact. I guess there were issued shooting at night but boy does it detract from the atmosphere.

The ghosts or phantoms that haunt the area of actually the smugglers, and the parson, dressed in robes with skeletons painted on them with luminous paint apparently (would they have had luminous paint in the 18th Century?). These sequences reminded me very much of the silliness of 'Scooby Doo' and even an element of the Ku Klux Klan oddly enough. The scenes of these phantoms galloping across the countryside at night, their robes glowing, unfortunately looked pretty rough as the effects clearly weren't up to much. A nice idea but they weren't able to fully realise it.

Final thoughts? The film's poster is epic, it's literally the perfect hokey Halloween image for any kid's party. As for the feature itself, well I enjoyed it despite it not really living up to the creepiness the poster oh so promises. The actual story is kinda weak and you're not really sure who you should be rooting for. The big reveal surrounding the parson should have been easy to figure out within the first five minutes of the opening (making him the baddie); and the authorities investigating the town are also kinda made out to be baddies too. I guess some of the townsfolk are the goodies despite being smugglers. The atmosphere is certainly present but the final execution is lacking (along with the effects), which is a shame. The night scenes that were obviously shot during the day really spoil everything, or it did for me at least.


Sunday 22 October 2023

The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960)


Possibly the least known movie that contained stop-motion work by the legendary Ray Harryhausen, and that's probably mostly down to the fact his work doesn't feature a great deal within the story. This is more of a classical children's feature along the lines of 'Doctor Doolittle' (1967) where Harryhausen's animal effects are only showcased twice and not for that long.

Loosely based on a classic piece of English literature by Johnathan Swift that can both be for adults and children (although that was not the intention). As with many films like this the plot has been cut down quite a bit and focuses mostly on the first two parts of the original novel (which is made up of four parts). Having never read the original novel myself and not having any clues as to what actually happened plot-wise (although I have heard of Gulliver's travels), the fact that the film is obviously missing large sections of the original novel made no difference to me. And to be honest this fact shouldn't really affect anyone else's enjoyment either unless you know the original story well. But I think they made the right choice because you probably wouldn't be able to cram everything into one film.

The story of Gulliver's travels in this film sees him getting lost at sea and washing up on the island of Lilliput where he makes friends with the Lilliputians. Not long after he discovers he's also stumbled into a conflict between the Lilliputians and the next island of Blefuscu. Upon realising he can't handle the conflict between the two Gulliver escapes to the island of Brobdingnag, the island of giants. There with the help of a young girl, he wins over the King and his court but eventually falls afoul of the Prime Minister who accuses Gulliver of witchcraft.

The original story is supposed to be a satire on Human nature, religion, war etc...the usual stuff. In hindsight I can kinda see that now but whilst watching the movie I didn't really get that vibe. Overall the movie is definitely aimed more at the younger audience and more of a spirited boy's adventure yarn. The first part of the plot which sees Gulliver in Lilliput definitely has more iconic imagery that people will recognise from the original literature such as Gulliver being restrained with multiple ropes. There is some lovely over-the-top acting, great effects, great sets and costumes, and an engaging little plot focusing on the silly conflict between the two islands. The brief sequence where Gulliver steals the warships of Blefuscu gives us a glimpse of their people who appear to be based on Asians or Chinese people. The Lilliputians seem to have an Arabic styling about them and their dwellings which is in contrast to the more medieval look of the Brobdingnagians.

The second part sees Gulliver trapped on the island of giants, Brobdingnag. The whole Lilliput saga fades away into memory as Gulliver must now try to win the favor of the rather childish King Brob. Once again the effects, sets, costumes, and acting are all top-notch. In fact the over-the-top acting is probably the highlight of the movie. Grégoire Aslan is fantastic as King Brob, his bizarre infantile portrayal is most enjoyable with his mood swings. He kinda reminded me of Richard Lewis in 'Robin Hood: Men in Tights'. This is also the part of the movie where we see Ray Harryhausen's work with a squirrel and crocodile, the crocodile obviously being the more exciting. Despite being his early work what you get is still top quality, the surrounding sets and props all adding to the illusion perfectly.

Effects wise this film obviously is showing its age. The majority of the giant effects are simple rear projection or bluescreen effects that do admittedly look pretty ugly these days. On the other hand there is a lot of clever camera trickery being utilised to sell the illusion of size. The most obvious trick is the use of angles and positioning cameras at various heights to give the perspective of looking up or down at different scales. Surprisingly this does work a treat and with the inclusion of various props at various sizes, you have a nice overall effect. 

Despite the literature this movie is based on what we get isn't really that original truth be told. The entire notion of adults acting childishly, being over-emotional and erratic, and prone to violence or anger; whilst the children in the story are much more level-headed is a somewhat common fairytale trope. Indeed this does come across much more like a classic fairytale than a sly attack on Human nature of the time, which Swift originally intended. One could argue there are offensive stereotypes within this tale but I'm guessing that was kinda the point of the original satire. It all looks like something out of a child's mind in this feature, a cobbled-together fusion of everything that almost seems LEGO-like in appearance. It all adds to the charm for sure, resulting in a very pleasant, relaxing story that's easy on the eyes and the perfect little piece of old-fashioned escapism.


Saturday 14 October 2023

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)


Okay so we finally have a Super Mario movie. Nintendo has finally allowed Hollywood to try again after the complete sh*tshow that was the 1993 attempt. The big question is, did they succeed this time? Yes, I think they did! 

The Mario franchise has spanned decades so who is the target audience now? Well it's kids and rightfully so, but naturally they have included lots of little hidden gems throughout for people who grew up with this classic plumbing duo (old folks like me). This was definitely a good move as the plot is pretty darn thin on the ground let me tell you. I mean what are we looking at here? It's a movie of the Mario games, so obviously it involves Mario and Luigi having to defeat Bowser with the help of Princess Peach and Toad, game over.

One of the main issues I had with this movie was the fact I felt like I had seen it all before...via videogames obviously. Personally I felt like many of the sequences could have easily been lifted from in-game videogame sequences or simple trailers for the games. The movie looks fantastic no doubt, but that isn't really a big deal anymore, in this day and age. We come to expect stunning animation and vibrant visuals so despite it looking spot on in every sense, that fact isn't really enough anymore. Videogames these days can look just as good as movies (especially animated movies) so it didn't feel overall especially mind-blowing or original. But yeah it did kinda feel a bit like a highlights reel from various sections of various games, but hey what did I expect right?

That being said, I did find myself questioning how certain things were missed (yes I'm contradicting myself now). When Mario has to fight Donkey Kong I couldn't help but think that director Aaron Horvath missed a trick by not utilising the classic 1981 'barrels and girders' arcade classic. There also seemed to be a lack of actual classic block platforming-type action sequences for the boys, strange decision. But on the plus side, the (Mario) kart sequence was good. I liked the brief appearance of Yoshi's, obviously being held back for the sequel. The brief sequence showing kiddie versions of Mario and Luigi harked back to the game 'Yoshi's Island'. 

I loved how back in Brooklyn there was another local neighbourhood character who looked and sounded exactly like the original Mario character (Jump Man) way back when; and he was playing 'Jump Man' on the arcade machine! And did anyone notice the use of the 'Super Mario Bros Super Show' opening intro song being used for the Mario Bros TV advert at the start? Gotta be a certain age kids. Of course there are many other little tit bits such as various Nintendo character portraits on the Mario family house walls, and Mario actually playing on a NES! (why not a SNES?).

Few things that griped me. Firstly, the inclusion of real-world pop songs, why??!! That completely pulled me out of the movie, a horrendous choice. Who in their right mind thought it would be a good idea to stick an A-ha tune over an action sequence? Ugh!!! Secondly, the overall score was so loud in general you couldn't really hear all those classic Nintendo videogame sound effects. All those epic little power-up, coin, 1-Up, stomp, kick, pipe etc...sound bites that are the heart and soul of the game. They got lost in the background. 

I also didn't like having to listen to Bowser singing which I thought was only a thing simply because Jack Black (who voiced Bowser) is a singer, sheesh! Speaking of voice acting, yeah everyone was fine, no probs for me. Sure like everyone else I thought the casting of Chris Pratt was an odd choice but yeah...he was fine. Not tooooo sure how Brooklyn didn't get completely wiped out in the big finale sequence what with Bowser's castle landing on it and the huge explosion etc...I guess I'm looking too much into it now.

Can't deny I was expecting more. For all the hype and money made, I was kinda expecting one of the greatest animated movies of all time, up there with 'Toy Story'. Yeah I know I'm stupid, should never let myself get carried away like that because you know it won't end well. Obviously if you know Nintendo and Mario then you should enjoy. If you don't know Nintendo and Mario then, where have you been? And obviously you'll probably be quite lost. Anyway, I wouldn't say it's a homerun but considering the garbage we're getting these days it's definitely a big improvement.


Sunday 8 October 2023

Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960)


Unbeknownst to me Hammer Productions made three movies based on the legend of Robin Hood. They are all separate from each other (not connected, not sequels) but this particular movie does have some connections with the TV series 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' which came a few years prior. But it's the cast in this movie that grabbed my attention.

The plot is a bit wishy washy it must be said, tends to roam about somewhat. Essentially, the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham along with the help of the Duke of Newark, wants to steal the land of a nobleman who has recently died in the Crusades. The Archbishop of Canterbury is against this move which results in him becoming the target of assassination by the Sheriff. Oddly enough the Duke of Newark stumbles upon Robin Hood (who he doesn't recognise) and upon being impressed with his archery skills asks Robin to carry out the assassination. Naturally, once Robin realises what's going on he decides to help the Archbishop.

That is the main crux of the plot but there are some drawbacks. Firstly, the nobleman whose land is so precious to the Sheriff and Duke is unknown, we don't get any information on him other than he was the Lord of Bawtry (a small market town in the north of England). I should also point out that the Duke of Newark, as far as I'm aware, is a fictitious character for this movie which is disappointing considering all the real people they could have used. Secondly, it's weird how the Duke doesn't recognise Robin (the notorious outlaw of the time) immediately or at least suspect anything. It has to be pointed out to him by the Sheriff after the Duke hires him. Its also quite amusing how the Duke puts Robin through some trials to test his archery skills, hires him, and then puts him through yet more trials because apparently he wasn't entirely convinced the first time; and he still doesn't realise its Robin Hood!

Oliver Reed plays Lord Melton (fictitious again), a promising evil-looking character with a glorious slimy voice who doesn't really do anything, a wasted character. And lastly, one of Robin's men is murdered by the Sheriff. So Maid Marian desperately wants to get the Archbishop to grant freedom to his family, which kinda feels superfluous really considering men on both sides probably got killed quite often.

It's an odd entry really, no mentions of Prince John, no mentions of Richard the Lionheart except for the Crusades. I'm not sure when this story is supposed to have been set timeline-wise or if it's just meant to be a random adventure. I can't deny it looks great though. Really rich vibrant settings that admittedly don't look anything like Nottinghamshire or Yorkshire or Derbyshire but they are attractive and green. It's the usual thing really, some shots look like they could be in the correct location, others look completely ridiculous. The movie was actually shot in Ireland but honestly I wouldn't have guessed that. Still, I enjoyed the visuals very much, the interiors of castles, places of worship, grand halls etc...all looked really nice and quite authentic. Hammer sets always looked good, especially inside rustic castles.

As I said originally it was the cast that piqued my interest here. As said there is Oliver Reed playing a great but underutilised baddie. Next to him you have Richard Pasco stealing every scene with bold overacting and amusing bowl haircut. Nigel Green once again plays the strongman character in Little John with that trademark hairstyle and beard of his. Richard Greene continues his role as Robin Hood from the TV series (much of the cast also starred in that series). Definitely some curious casting for me because he looked like a clean-cut middle-aged bank manager rather than a medieval outlaw. And of course Peter Cushing can simply do no wrong. I expected a stereotypical moustache-twirling villain but I was genuinely surprised at how good his Sheriff was here. I should also add that the costumes all round were really good and authentic looking. Again I expected cliched costumes in big bold colours but no! Characters have various outfits and they mostly look suitably rough, worn, and handmade.

I'll be honest here, I fully expected this to be a horrendous fake-looking cliched mess with corny-as-hell acting, but I was wrong! Yes the story is kinda weak and I have no idea how it fits into the lore of Robin Hood (or if it even does, probably doesn't). I'm guessing it's just a story someone made up for the movie and not based on any historical events or folklore. That aside, the visuals overall are very pleasing from the costumes to the locations and the wonderful interior sets. This movie looks far better than most other Robin Hood movies and, dare I say, more authentic than the classic Errol Flynn adventure. Don't go expecting top-notch action of course but what you get is perfectly acceptable. Overall this is a thoroughly enjoyable romp of the Middle Ages. Look out for 007's Desmond Llewellyn as the bloke getting shot in the back with an arrow at the start. 


Sunday 20 August 2023

House on Haunted Hill (1959)


An eccentric millionaire rents a house that is believed to be haunted in order to throw a party and see who survives? This millionaire appears to be bored with life. But wait! There is of course a more sinister plot afoot, well kinda. Actually it all surrounds a simple murder attempt and no ghosts or ghoulies a tall unfortunately.

So spoiler alert then for this (at the time of this review) 64-year-old movie. Yes, for a movie about a haunted house and starring the King of Creeps Vincent Price, there is no supernatural activity going on in this entire movie, alas. Frederick Loren (Price) invites a small party of specific people over to his spooky soirée. They all share one thing in common, they crave money (don't we all). Apart from the obvious lure of money I'm not too sure why these people would accept such a bizarre and possibly suspicious offer. Looking at it from my own perspective, I would be highly suspicious, but anyway.

The house in question is an actual real location in LA (Ennis House) and it looks awful in my humble opinion. A large ugly concrete block monstrosity that looks like it's been built out of Lego with precast Mayan patterns on them. It literally looks like a Lego set and completely goes against the whole classic 'haunted house' theme. Especially when you take into consideration that the movie's poster showcases a more classic haunted house design. The interiors of the house also have the more classic haunted house style and appearance that most will come to expect, but again this goes against the house's ugly blocky exterior. Alas this contrast makes the interiors look and feel much more like the sets they actually (and obviously) are.

We are told there have been murders in this house hence why everyone thinks it's haunted, but that's as far as it goes. Not sure who owns the house or why they rent it but it does come with an eerie duo of house cleaners. One of which does seem to take presumed delight in scaring one of the female guests half to death by acting mightily scary at random times. I still don't understand why this cleaner did that, what was the point? Didn't seem to have any effect on the actual plot. After a few more (but not that many) ghostly encounters we eventually discover that it's all a ruse by one of the guests and Frederick's wife in order to get his wealth, a shocking revelation. But does Frederick have the upper hand?

For the most part the scares in this movie are mostly people disappearing in rooms, the odd plastic head in a box, a ghost floating outside of a window etc...For the time I'm sure it was intimidating stuff but obviously these days it's all very cute. The main money shot, if you can call it that, is the finale sequence where the supposed skeletal remains of Frederick pop up and floats around the room after his wife, eventually shoving her into a large vat of acid. Yes one room has a large vat of acid in it, don't question it. This sequence is legit laughable in all its absolute crudity and yet at the same time I'm actually impressed they had the gall to keep it in the movie! Heck they liked said skeleton so much it even features on the movie poster. The highlight of this sequence has to be a shot of Frederick standing there controlling the skeleton with the most ridiculous pulley contraption strapped to his body, apparently completely out of sight of his wife! (laugh out loud!).

In the end everything works out just dandy. Frederick successfully kills off his dastardly wife and her lover and proclaims he's ready to accept whatever justice is dished out to him. Yet despite the lack of any actual apparitions we are still led to possibly believe that the house is haunted and that Frederick's wife and lover now also haunt the house. Kinda disappointing we didn't actually get any spooks but despite that I can't say I didn't like the movie. I think this falls under the category of 'the poster is better than the actual movie'. Definitely the epitome of a Price horror flick but ultimately I kinda expected more and not quite as much low-budget effects.


Saturday 29 July 2023

Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)


'Attack of the Giant Leeches' or if you like...'Giant Leeches Invade Dixieland' or 'Giant Leeches vs. The Good Old Boys'.

So back to the 50's we go with the ever-popular (for the time) monster flick. Or to be more precise, giant bug attack flick. Back in those days it was either aliens, giant bugs, or mysterious monsters. I have mentioned before in previous reviews how during this period virtually every form of bug (and various other species) was used for these types of movies. Giant locusts, spiders, frogs, birds, ants, scorpions, crabs, praying mantis, lizards etc...We've even had killer rocks and trees.

I have also mentioned in previous reviews how these movies tend to be generally exactly the same, and this is no different. Once again giant man-eating creatures are crawling around the outback nowhere near civilisation and terrorising some small all-American town. Usually it's out in the desert somewhere but this time it's deep in the Everglades. Nevertheless the townsfolk are still the same predictable bunch we always see. The good-looking square-jawed White male lead, his attractive White female companion, the elder wiser White male who explains everything (and gives us exposition), and of course the ugly chubby sceptic cops.

The plot? People start disappearing in the Everglades and no one knows why. The main good-looking protagonist and his attractive companion soon think they know but of course no one in town believes them. Eventually they manage to drag everyone (the hick cops) into their way of thinking and save the day, the end.

The monsters in question? Well they are supposed to be leeches...but they don't look like leeches. They kinda look like large squid/octopus tentacles and pretty much act like it too. The monster outfits in question are, predictably pretty bad even by B-movie standards. They appear to be simply large black bin bags or black raincoats stitched together. Yes I know that's what wiki says but that's pretty accurate. Unfortunately we don't even see them enough to enjoy their cheesy appearance, add to that how dark the picture was and it's a bit of a bust really. When we do see them you are clearly able to see it's just men in costume, especially when they 'carry' their prey away.

To be fair the acting all round is actually pretty solid considering. The budget was obviously non-existent but the cast actually do a good job and fit their roles. Leading man Ken Clark was actually pretty buffed up, can't deny a good-looking man with his Brad Pitt-esque locks. As for everything else less said the better really. The way they deal with the leeches is absolutely hilarious (just dropping dynamite randomly into the lake), and all the sequences within the leech lair are quite quite farcical to say the least. But if you're after hokey 50's schlock then you definitely can't go wrong with this one. Really could of done with more leech action though.