Monday, 27 August 2018

The Muppet Movie (1979)

























I am currently 40 years old as I write this (born in 1978). Like a few other franchises (Star Wars, Star Trek, Ghostbusters, Superman etc...) I was introduced to the Muppets at a very young age and ended up growing up with them. In fact, I do believe this was one of the first movies I recall seeing in the early stages of my life (along with some Disney animations). Yes back in the days of big square television sets encased in a plastic wood effect surround; along with a big chunky VHS recorder that had a remote control attached by a cable. Those were the days when watching a movie like 'The Muppet Movie' on TV was a big deal and had to be recorded for repeat viewings.

This being my first Muppet experience as a kid it obviously holds the greatest amount of nostalgia for me. As I watched this recently it was incredible just how many memories of my childhood came flooding back simply by seeing certain scenes. It's a strange...emotion really, I found myself near tears as the camera slowly panned down on Kermit whilst atop of his swampy log singing The Rainbow Connection. It's weird how you recall little moments out of the blue, little bits of dialog, despite not seeing the movie for many many years.

But I think one of the funniest things that spring to mind is simply how much of this movie I didn't understand when I was a kid. I remember not getting some of the jokes, not understanding certain scenes, certain gestures, and even certain individual words. It's funny how you watch an old childhood movie like this and think to yourself 'oh so that's what that meant'. 'Oh that's what that character means'. 'Oh I get that now, I see the nod and wink gag'. I think the Muppets is certainly a franchise that serves both adults and kids perfectly. As a kid you love them because they are just silly, colourful, funny, and look wacky. As an adult you get the sly humour, the winks, and of course you know who the cameos are (something else I totally missed as a kid). They are very much like the old Warner Bros. cartoons in that sense.



As for the movie itself, it's actually more of a mixed bag for me now looking back. Firstly the Muppet effects are of course, for the time, very good. An early scene in a bar showcases a full-body sequence of Kermit and Fozzie dancing on stage. This was done by utilising the same techniques they would eventually use in 'Labyrinth' which had both Jim Henson and Frank Oz manipulating the puppets in front of a bluescreen. That footage was then composited onto pre-shot live action footage of the bar. Considering how old this movie is and it being the first Muppet movie this sequence looks great (helped by the dark setting of the bar).

The opening sequence of Kermit sitting on his log in his swamp is also one of the movies great highlights (if not the highlight). In this case, Henson had to be submerged under the water inside the log and performed Kermit through an above opening whilst watching on a monitor. This not only sounded very tricky but also very dangerous in my opinion. Needless to say the entire shot looks flawless. The same can be said for the shots of Muppets riding bikes which was simply a Muppet stuck to the bike's pedals and handlebars with the bike being guided along by an overhead crane. And then you have the odd full-body shot of Muppets standing in the open which I'm guessing was again utilising an overhead crane, but you'd never guess because it looks terrific.

Of course the big finale sequence of every single Muppet (including Sesame Street I think) all together singing in one huge overhead shot was the coup de grĂ¢ce. This was achieved simply by having around 250 puppet performers all side by side in large long trenches or pits (so all the Muppets would be at the same height). It was merely the same technique they used all the time but on a huge scale to incorporate all the Muppets. Simple but effective and immensely memorable.



The movie itself is of course a light-hearted kids comedy bordering on spoof at times. There are tonnes of silly slapstick and songs for the kids to enjoy, but at the same time the movie is crammed with dry wit, pop culture references, meta-references, and big-name cameos for the adults. The gags tend to vary in quality though it has to be said. Whilst some are still quite clever, some are horribly childish and now horribly dated. When the Muppets come to a fork in the road...there is literally a large fork in the road. At times the Muppets will actually reference the movies script, people behind the camera, and will break the fourth wall.

The cameos are another large part of the Muppet movies that would continue going forward over the years. This being the first movie it has some epic cameos from actors of legendary status and other actors you'd be surprised to see. Brief cameos from the likes of Dom DeLuise, Telly Savalas, James Coburn, Elliot Gould, Bob Hope, Orson Welles (looking epically awesome), Steve Martin (yes Steve Martin!), and Richard Pryor to name a few. And then you had Mel Brooks (who always looked middle-aged) as a mad German scientist hired to brainwash Kermit. To say that Brooks was overacting would be an understatement, he goes for it.

The one problem with this movie that I just can't get around is the plot, its crap. Basically Kermit and his friends are trying to get to Hollywood to become big stars (somewhat shallow in itself). This seems to be something the Muppets try to do a lot. On the way Kermit is pursued by Doc Hopper (Charles Durning), a restaurateur who wants to open a chain of fast food frogs legs restaurants (but why????). But for some reason he needs Kermit to act in some commercials for his chain to get the gig off the ground. His idea simply being a dancing frog mascot will help sell frogs legs. What's more to the question, would anything help sell frogs legs??



So he offers Kermit some great monetary deals to simply star in some adverts and basically be a mascot. Naturally, Kermit being the sickening goody-two-shoes that he is, he turns these offers down despite the other Muppets telling him to take them. So Doc Hopper chases Kermit and co across the US trying to force him into the deal. This involves threats, kidnapping, attempted brainwashing, attempted Muppet murder etc...In short it all feels somewhat extreme.

But this is the problem, the plot is just awful. The Muppets just wanna go to Hollywood to become stars...just because. And Doc Hopper (notice the pun in his name) wants to sell frogs legs to Americans via a fast food chain and wants Kermit to do some adverts. But towards the end the Muppets reach Hollywood and do their thing whilst Doc Hopper and his gang simply disappear, I guess they give up (?). I should also point out that the Muppets are given the 'Hollywood rich and famous contract' by Orson Welles straight away without any hesitation. They just burst in and get taken on. Yes, I know its just a kids Muppet movie but I have to point out that the plot literally makes no sense and grinds to a nonsensical stop at the end. Its almost as if Henson didn't know how to finish it so they just...ended it with a song.

I should also point out that the story we watch unfold is actually a movie within a movie. The story is actually a movie the Muppets have apparently made themselves and are screening it for themselves (this bookends the movie). My question has always been, is this movie the Muppets have made a bio of themselves coming to Hollywood? Is it supposed to be their story of how they cracked Hollywood? Or is it supposed to be a fictional tale they have created for monetary purposes?



It's certainly a historic movie with all the classic cameos, classic cars, classic songs, and classic set pieces throughout. As you might expect the movie is also pretty corny and dated these days, but that's not a bad thing. After all this is a Muppet movie and Muppets can get away with just about anything because they are so damned iconic and adored worldwide. But yeah the plot is very fast and loose, strung together by set pieces and songs which luckily are very good. All your favourite Muppets are present and correct with Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, Rowlf the Dog, Beaker, Lew Zealand etc...And even Big Bird on his way to Sesame Street (was Big Bird a new character at this time?). The movie does seem to end in an abrupt and odd kinda way but its so fecking sweet you just can't help but smile (or wipe away a nostalgic tear...damn it).

Is it just me or was anyone else kinda terrified of Sweetums when they were a kid? Like who the hell thought that was a good design for a Muppet?? He's a huge, monstrous, evil-looking, humanoid beast that can run and eat things whole!!

7/10

Monday, 20 August 2018

Project ALF (1996)

























So back in the late 80's there was this TV series that starred what was essentially a Muppet. But this was not just any Muppet oh no. Firstly it had nothing to do with Jim Henson and was not a Muppet, and secondly this fuzzy character was completely politically incorrect. The absolute horror!!

So ALF (Alien Life Form) was an alien from the planet Melmac that crash-landed on Earth in typical alien fashion. Not only did he crash-land on Earth, he crash-landed right in the garage of a nice middle-class suburban American family called the Tanner's. Upon discovering that ALF (real alien name Gordon Shumway but affectionately known as ALF) was harmless and friendly the Tanner's hid him, essentially making him a part of their family. And from there we got a 4 seasons of wacky alien hijinks as the Tanner's try to keep ALF hidden from the government and ALF merely tries to fill his eight stomachs and make some money on the side.

This movie followed on from where the TV series left off (an unresolved cliffhanger) and sees the military getting a hold of ALF and taking him away for experimentation under the orders of Colonel Milfoil (Martin Sheen). Basically Milfoil wants to exterminate ALF because he sees the alien as a threat. On the other hand two other military scientists don't want to see ALF executed because its against his alien rights, it would be cruel, and humans could learn from him. So the duo decide to help ALF escape and go on the run. Eventually they seek help from an ex-NASA scientist (Miguel Ferrer) who seemingly wants to help ALF but also turns out to have his own dastardly plans. So its all very corny cliched and stereotypical stuff.

So let me just get this out of the way first. ALF was one of those US shows of pure genius the likes of which we'll probably never see again. The show was for the family but probably swung that little more towards the older age range because of its dry witty humour. The kids loved ALF of course but his cruel, sarcastic, mocking, cutting quips were anything but childish and would probably be deemed offensive today. I guess you could kinda say Married with Children was a similar type of show in the sense that everyone could enjoy it, but it was clearly aimed at the older age range overall (and it was also highly offensive by today's standards).

Of course the puppet of ALF was the standout feature of the show which was surprising if you think about it. Here was essentially a rather daft looking puppet that was fat, had a long snout, big dark eyes, big pointed ears, covered in thick brown hair, and had a kind of curtains style mop on his bonce. Just like any Muppet he was limited in facial movement and could only move his head arms and hands as his bottom half was never shown (he was always behind something). But it was never really about his look, it was all about his attitude, his biting satire, and his goofy voice all provided by creator Paul Fusco.

This movie starts off on top form showcasing ALF at his witty best whilst being experimented on. This initial sequence which shows ALF being questioned by various scientists is easily the highlight of the movie and gives you what you crave, ALF at his most cynical (and food obsessed). Dr. Warner the first scientist to question ALF (Ed Begley Jr.) gets accidentally electrocuted to death whilst trying to remove a warning sign off an electrical piece of equipment. From there on ALF constantly refers to this incident sarcastically (mainly out of fear and pure bewilderment) because the following scientists try to cover it up as a nothing burger (secret military facility you see).

Word Association Test:
Scientist: 'Left' - ALF: 'Overs'
Scientist: 'Sunrise' - ALF: 'Breakfast'
Scientist: 'Square' - ALF: 'Meal'

Scientist: 'Are you hungry?'


The scientist continues...
Scientist: 'On' - ALF: 'Off'
Scientist: 'Up' - ALF: 'Down'
Scientist: 'Toast' - ALF: 'Dr. Warner'

Alas the movie does tend to deteriorate pretty quickly once ALF is broken out of the military facility. One reason for this I believe is the fact that when ALF is outside or on the move its hard to do things with him because he is a puppet. You always need something for him to stand behind, lean against, sit on etc...I think this limited the movie as once ALF is out it becomes a chase flick. Now whilst you could say that the Muppets prove this can be done effectively, you still have to accept that many scenes in Henson movies work when the Muppets are indoors on a set of some kind. Plus the Henson movies probably had a much better budget than this movie.

As with the Muppets the people behind this movie do know their way around puppeteering and I assume worked on the TV show previously. ALF is shot well and still looks as good as you would expect. I can't recall the TV show too well these days but I'm sure ALF probably looks better than he did on the show given the circumstances. There aren't too many special effects aside from ALF of course. Like the Muppets there is the odd shot of a short person in a full body suit for the odd long shot or brief walking shot of the alien. And much like the Muppets it does work...unless you go back and rewatch it over slowly.

In general the humour becomes more mundane and predictable as the movie progresses. The usual situations where humans are at first shocked by ALF, then realise he's harmless and slowly accept him...whilst still in shock. Yeah its kinda amusing but gets old fast. The setup ALF has on the military base is also very Bilko-esque to the point of being a direct copy frankly. Almost every scene where ALF is not present is unfortunately really dull and you just wanna get back to ALF as quickly as possible. That's where the Muppets win because there are many Muppets and their stories surround them, humans are the extras. Here the story also involves humans and you are unable to escape focusing on them. ALF is not the only main character and that's the problem.

Still there are of course some highlights dotted around the latter half of the movie, all involving ALF of course. The little jab about the possibility of seeing ALF dolls on sale everywhere was very cute and meta (back in the day, at one point, ALF dolls were everywhere). ALF talking dirty to a blonde female was most amusing. 'do you mind vacuuming my lap? Nina needs a clean place to sit' ha!..ha! (ALF laugh).

The main problem with this movie was the fact it just felt cheap and not well thought out. For starters its a made-for-TV movie (not good) and damn well looks it (also not good). Yes it follows on from a TV series but it doesn't look [b]that[/b] much better which is not right. Yeah you could say it doesn't need to be flashy but blimey it could of looked better than this. There is nothing really exciting here, nothing to look at. Every scene is boring, set in boring locations, it doesn't appear that any imagination was used anywhere. As said the plot is really pretty wafer thin and makes no real sense. Martin Sheen's character wants to kill ALF simply because his mother was supposedly abducted by aliens and went mad over it? K I can understand him being upset but killing mankind's first contact with friendly intelligent alien life is not the best way forward.

Then you have Miguel Ferrer's character who wants to sell ALF to the highest bidder which is a selfish thing to do but not entirely problematic really. He also said that exposing ALF to the world would make him safer because everyone would know of him and would obviously want to learn from him. Again this actually makes sense. Whilst ALF is a military secret anything could happen to him. Once he's plastered across the world then it would be very difficult for someone to get to him. He would probably instantly become a protected species so to speak. So this plot angle doesn't really work, plus Miguel Ferrer looks really bored here.

So yeah, its fun when ALF is on screen, but not so much when the humans are on screen. Too many humans and not enough ALF was always gonna be a problem (an issue the TV show didn't really have). Maybe they shouldn't have jettisoned the Tanner family? You could of had them try to rescue ALF I guess; still not exactly groundbreaking on the originality front is it. But to write out the main characters of the TV show after 4 seasons on TV? Probably not a good move. Anyhow, this isn't a great movie by any stretch but its not awful. If you like ALF then you'll probably enjoy the ALF nuggets here. But overall this feels so much like a wasted opportunity that is compounded by the fact it probably came too late in the day.

5/10


'I thought I'd open with a joke or two. What's the difference between a shower curtain and toilet paper?'

'I don't know'

'So YOU'RE the one! Ha!'

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

BASEketball (1998)

Back in the early days of man, the dark ages, pre-1997, there was no such thing as South Park. Yes I know what you're all thinking right now, how could that be??!! How did people survive?? What did they do with themselves?? What's wrong with some good old fashioned Morris dancing? Is how I would have replied, but I digress. Twas the surprising success of the Colorado set animated TV show that gave both Trey Parker and Matt Stone the chance to let loose in crazy ventures such as 'BASEketball'.

Apparently the actual game of BASEketball was the brainchild of this movies director, David Zucker. Is this true? Who knows, moving on. The plot consists of two 23 year old unemployed losers, Coop (Trey Parker) and Remer (Stone), who seem to have generally failed in life thus far. In their own words they mainly sit around all day drinking beer and playing Nintendo. One night they crash a party being hosted by a sexy former high school classmate and end up challenging two jocks to a game of two-on-two basketball. But in order to humiliate and ultimately beat the jocks (who are both very good at basketball), the duo quickly invent their own game rules on the fly (a combination of baseball and basketball).

The guys win their stupid game but still lose the girls (ultimately not humiliating the jocks after all). Despite feeling rejected the duo decide to work on their new creation which appeared to work quite well all things considered. Over the next six months their idea morphs into a highly popular street game which attracts the attention of businessman Ted Denslow (Ernest Borgnine) who helps the guys turn the game into a major national sport, the National BASEketball League (NBL). Its from this point on things go from bad to worse as the duo find themselves disagreeing on things such as the monetisation of the sport, sexy women, best friends, child labour, and of course fame. All the usual things because money is the source of all evil and leads to unhappiness, greed, and all that jazz.

So obviously this movie was nothing more than a vehicle for the South Park duo to cash in on said TV show because said TV show was, at the time, becoming incredibly popular...bordering on massively popular (if it wasn't already at that point). So it was clearly time for a studio to get these guys involved in something in order to mine that precious moolah. The movie has absolutely nothing to do with their animated show but its as you can imagine a lot of the humour does fall in line with said Colorado based animated show. Add to that the very popular and classic spoof humour of Zucker ('The Naked Gun', 'Airplane' etc...) and you do have the possibility for comedic gold.

Do you actually get comedic gold though? Well yes and no, its kinda sporadic. The movie has many highs and lows which can either make you cringe or laugh out loud, its very...umm sporadic. Of course the movie being 20 years old doesn't help too much with much of the humour (some of it is terribly 90's). But a true classic comedy should stand the test of time really so I guess you can say this isn't up to that standard (it definitely isn't).



So essentially what you have (as I'm sure you can guess) is across the board infantile frat-boy style humour mixed with some equally crass and silly spoofery. Most of the humour does indeed surround typical things like hot girls, beer, bowel movements, sexuality etc...At the national league games the cheerleaders are essentially strippers clad in different attire depending on the game night theme...or sometimes they are just strippers. The game night themes are themselves utterly bizarre and actually quite amusing at times. For example there is dozen egg night, free range chicken night, and probe night. On these nights the crowds usually partake in the theme, so on free range chicken night the fans bring in their own chickens to the game. The typical Zucker humour tends to creep into the background strategically. Whilst two characters discuss the plot in the foreground, in the background a groundsman casually pushes along a huge vacuum machine that sucks up loose chickens on the field. And no one bats an eye.

The game teams are all ridiculous and in some cases now offensive. For example Coop and Remer play for The Beers, because no comedy is complete without mindless predictable beer gags. Then there is the San Francisco all male team The Ferries who dress in pink and have buffed up male strippers for their cheerleaders. The New Jersey team are called The Informants...bada bing! The LA team are the LA Riots...ahem! There is a team from Roswell which are of course based on Area 51 and aliens (ugh!). There is a Latino team which is based around crime and finally a Texas team chock full of redneck cowboy types. So yeah, mostly offensive stereotypes which would cause a shitstorm these days.

One of the movies small highlights is of course Trey Parker doing what appears to be his best Rik Mayall impressions (complete with wacky blonde hair). For instance in the games players are allowed to try and distract their opposition whilst they take shots. This leads to some pretty ingenious bits of visual comedy. We see Cooper pretend to cut off a finger complete with squirting fake blood. Cooper also munches on silver foil. Remer squirts milk from his nipples whilst asking 'got milk?'. The pair constantly mock and berate their smaller teammate Squeak (Dian Bachar) using him as a way to unhinge the opposition; something which at times is funny whilst at other times far too predictable. And at one point Cooper even unleashes Eric Cartman's voice to attack a player.


Parker is clearly the more energetic and amusing cast member to watch. He seems much more comfortable in front of the camera hence his visual antics and quips do tend to come across more, dare I say professionally, than Stone. Its the little touches that make you smile such as Coop getting annoyed and simply letting out a frustrated 'awww' every time; something that he exaggerates more and more throughout. His one in-game drunken stupor was also a small highlight. Falling asleep at the mount, running whilst still hungover bloated with alcohol, and letting down little Joey who wanted Coop to hit some homers (or whatever they were called). Then there's the happy dance, whenever Coop gets really angry Remer makes him to a little jig whilst singing 'I'm doing the happy dance, I'm doing the happy dance'. Its utterly stupid but the fact it clearly makes Coop happier is somehow amusing to watch.

On the other hand Stone isn't really as good as Parker. He doesn't really have the same screen presence, he isn't as good with physical humour, and he doesn't have the ability to do any really funny voices. Overall it just kinda feels like Stone is there merely because he was part of the creation process behind South Park and he has to be there otherwise it would seem unfair. Sure he can do some simple voices for certain characters but he's obviously better in the writing process.

As for the rest of the cast it reads like a who's who of forgotten stars and wannabes. It kinda feels like they got certain older classic stars because they just needed the work and money. Or they just wanted to get involved in a 'hip new comedy' that's 'down with the kids' to stay relevant. Whilst other lesser known actors clearly just need anything they can get. The movie is also stuffed full of needless cameos which always comes across as a cheap ploy to lure in an audience and boost interest. At the same time it also dates the movie horribly, case in point, a specific NASCAR driver, some American sports commentators, and dated celebs like Victoria Silvstedt. Also despite the soundtrack being somewhat engaging it too does very little to help the hideous dating of this movie. Who remembers Scatman?



In a sense I believe this movie is maybe supposed to mirror Parker and Stone's own early lives as they went from being losers bumming around, to losers with fame and fortune under their new-found creation. Of course I could be wrong because essentially this movie has no real plot, its merely a string of silly and offensive sequences tied together with some music and cameos. On one hand I do like the movie simply because of its sheer lack political correctness (twas before all that shit) which is always a breath of fresh air. Some of the things in this movie would never be allowed these days, and that's fecking awesome. But on the other hand it is admittedly a pretty crap movie with crap acting, bad effects, a stupid plot, and tonnes of awkward cameos.

In typical Parker and Stone manner the movie (like South Park) is deliberately offensive. Its offensive for the sake of being offensive. But if that's your bag, if you're open to that kind of humour, then you may have a blast with this guff. If not then I'd advise you to stay away for fear of getting triggered.

6/10

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Black Water (2018)

Apparently the fifth collaboration between the mighty Dolph Lundgren and the muscles from Brussels...kinda. K I'll be honest with you here, don't expect too much with this OK.

The Plot: Holy shit there is some double cross in this picture, I'm still not really sure what the goal was here but lets go. Scott Wheeler (JCVD) is a deep cover agent who trying to identify a leak within the CIA with his female partner. His partner has a USB drive which contains an algorithm to activate secret agents (what?) whilst Wheeler has the activation key. Naturally Wheeler's partner is killed resulting in him being captured under suspicion of going rogue. Wheeler awakens on-board a CIA blacksite located on a submarine. On-board are various CIA  agents, some are genuine and of course some are not. What follows is a convoluted mess as Wheeler and some remaining goodie agents try to escape the sub with the drive.

Again I honesty had no real clue what the hell was happening whilst watching this because it is a real mess. The plot is all over the show and never really makes much sense. I still don't really get what this USB drive could actually do. Activate secret agents? How do you mean? Reveal their locations? Are they under some sort of mental control? I'm not even sure how activating these agents would be of any use, unless they're super agents or something. In the end it doesn't really matter because the drive and its purpose are more of a mcguffin than anything. Its just an object for the various jacked-up agents to fight over.

Oh yeah, speaking of being jacked-up (rather muscular), literally everyone in this movie is jacked-up. Every single agent looks like they've been on a four course meal of steroids for the last six months. Oh and most have cropped hair with tattoo sleeves and long beards, because having a long beard is the thing now apparently. I believe its what you call being a hipster? Only with big muscles.

Anyway the entire movie is set inside this submarine which of course isn't really a submarine but a very very bad selection of sets. Now when I say bad I mean bad. They generally consist of grey painted corridors and rooms with some control panels and every shot being lit in either red or green (because all subs are lit with red and green bulbs you see). Everything is dark of course to hide the bad sets where ever possible, hence the red and green lighting. Every now and then we might get a shot which seems to have been filmed on location, most probably inside a naval ship of some kind, but these are sparse.



All the action is pretty terrible. All the shoots outs are laughable because everyone misses the good guys every time, often at point blank range. If any good guy does get shot its usually in the shoulder, unless they're expendable. I also had to ask myself, surely with all these shoot outs the sub would be in danger of getting damaged badly, maybe springing a leak perhaps. Nah, they just keep blasting at each other and hitting the walls or pipes or whatever, no worries. In between any gun fights Van Damme of course manages to kick some bad guys in the face at close quarters. I say close quarters but in reality these sets are nice and wide so Van Damme is able to perform his usual repertoire of kickassery, because realism.

Oh Christ I nearly forgot about old Dolph. Well clearly the director nearly forgot about old Dolph too because he's hardly in this. He obviously gets top billing on the poster alongside Van Damme to obviously attract the hardcore fans; but its pretty blatant false advertising on said poster (a poster which sees Van Damme blatantly de-aged). Dolph plays another prisoner on-board the sub who is eventually released by Wheeler for help. He then kicks a little butt and literally disappears for the rest of the movie. That is until the very end where we get a completely pointless final scene with him.

The acting is generally bad all round because they've seemingly hired body builders with no experience in acting. The main characters are a tad better but not much. Most are unknown to me but I guess the best of the bunch goes to Al Sapienza who plays one of the main CIA heads who may or may not be Wheeler's friend (intrigued much?). But apparently they only wanted good looking sexy people to aide Van Damme's character. Special mention to Jasmine Waltz and her plastic doll-like face and body (obvious surgery).

The poster does look good for this I can't deny but alas its utter crap my friends. Shoddy all round, very fake looking, poor acting, poor everything! I think this has to be the first really bad straight to DVD type movie I've seen with both Dolph and Van Damme. I know they have made some lower budget things in the past but this really takes the cake.

2/10

Thursday, 2 August 2018

The House That Dripped Blood (1971)

























I don't really like the title of this movie seeing as its not really accurate and sounds kinda daft. The house is the centre point of the movie as its where everything happens, hence the dripping blood part. But the movie is relatively tame with little to no blood, hardly dripping. To top that one of the stories doesn't even take place within the house. I prefer the original title of 'Death and the Maiden'.

The premise here is very simple (and much the same as all other anthology movies). The main plot bookends four individual little tales which all fit into or make up the main plot. In this case police Inspector Holloway (John Bennett) is on a case to investigate the disappearance of a famous movie star. The Inspector is pointed in the direction of an old house where the movie star was last seen. Upon meeting with the local estate agent the Inspector is told all about the previous tenants leading up to the movie star.

The first story is about a horror writer (Denholm Elliot) moving into the house with his wife, mainly to help his creative writing. The writer soon finds himself haunted by the very character he created within his current book, or does he? Its this first story that introduces us to the creepy old house and bottom line, its perfect. Both the exterior and interior are exactly what you might think of when it comes to an old creaking British spook house. There are gargoyles on the buildings exterior, old fashioned stained glass windows, and much of the interior is solid wood paneling with all the gothic/Victorian style trimmings you might expect to see in a period house. Its these visuals which help this initial story greatly because to be frank its pretty weak. Sure it offers a nice twist on twist at the end but the makeup on the murderous villain is laughable which really doesn't help.



Up next we see Peter Cushing as a retired stock broker moving into the old house merely to spend his days relaxing and enjoying life. One day he wanders off down to the high street (of an unknown location) and stumbles across a horror waxworks. Curious he ventures inside and eventually comes across a mysterious female figure that seems to bewitch him. Later an old friend (Joss Ackland) visits who also ends up going to the waxworks and also becomes bewitched.

This little tale is also pretty weak in my opinion as it offers no real explanation for anything. We don't find out anything about Cushing's character of his friend (Ackland) other than they are old friends who seemingly fell for the same woman and both lost her. The wax figure reminds both of them of said woman whilst at the same time seemingly hypnotising them. Of course the wax figure turns out to actually be the woman they both loved, the owner of the waxworks killed and mummified her in wax cos he fancied her too (its a small world). Naturally all this is a bit silly because of course you'd never be able to conceal a body like that for obvious decomposition issues. And the fact the waxwork owner then displays the heads of both men (yup he kills them both) in his display kinda seems like shooting yourself in the foot really doesn't it (I think people would notice). I think we are led to believe this guy does this a lot to various people...because they fall in love with the wax mummified dead body of this woman? If you say so.

The third story is easily the best and surrounds a little girl called Jane (Chloe Franks), her father (Christopher Lee), and the hired nanny (Nyree Dawn Porter). Hired help Ann is concerned with the cold attitude John Reid has towards his daughter. He's not physically abusive, just cold and heartless, he doesn't seem to love her; he also speaks badly of his late wife. Of course little Jane is not your average little girl, she's a witch, as was her mother.



This segment is not exactly original or particularly hard to fathom but its certainly the most eerie and more cinematic of the stories. You could easily have seen this being made into a full length movie as the whole demonic child angle is a popular one. Little Chloe is highly adorable throughout which makes it even more chilling because you struggle to think how she could ever be evil. Lee is doing his usual stoic faced thing and comes across very well as a stern father, whilst Porter is very good as the confused nanny. This story works on many levels but mainly because it made me wanna know more about what happened before with the mother and what happened going forward with Jane.

The last segment surrounds a flamboyant and arrogant actor (Jon Pertwee) who moves into the old house whilst filming his latest horror movie. Not happy with the current state of the movie and his costume he goes to an old mysterious antique shop which sells various creepy artifacts and knick-knacks. There he picks up a black cloak for his latest vampiric role. Everything is fine and normal until he realises the cloak actually gives him real vampiric powers when he puts it on.

This by far the most goofy and more comedic of the four short stories. You can see how this could well have influenced many silly 80's horror comedies with its ideas and visuals. The highlight is easily Pertwee who really enjoys himself hamming it up with all manner of rubbery facial expressions and over the top vampire hijinks. Lets not forget about the owner of the old spooky shop played by Geoffrey Bayldon who fights Pertwee all the way with his own over the top goofiness. This doesn't really offer anything you haven't seen before. By today's standards its a pretty stereotypical vampire offering on all fronts, but its that good old fashioned quirky charm that grabs you.



On the whole this is most definitely one of the most iconic anthology films I've seen. Its well known, the title is outrageously and hilariously overblown, and of course the cast is stellar. I wouldn't say its one of the best anthologies though, its split down the middle for me. The first story is acceptable, the second is kinda weak, the third is the best, and the fourth is fun in a daft way. On the whole everything looks good with (as said) the house being a great setting for all the tales. The costumes are gorgeous, the acting is solid, and the makeup and effects...well they vary a bit as expected.

But for me this movie really seemed to highlight the actors and what they were best known for. Here Cushing looks exactly as you remember him, as you'll always picture him. Extremely debonair and dapper with the classic red smoking jacket with elegant neck scarf whilst sitting in an old classical hardback chair. On the other hand you then have Christopher Lee marching his lean 6ft plus frame around with widows peak combed and perfectly presented. He constantly looks like he's about to lose it and smack someone, of simply bite their neck. As for Pertwee, well here he just comes across as Dr Who in a cape, but that's just fine.

So overall I'd say thoroughly recommended if you're into these old horror films. Obviously they won't be everyone's cup of tea with the limited visuals (of the time) and dare I say (admittedly) corny stories. But with things like this its all about the charm of it all really, the quaintness and enchantment if I can use that term. Not the best but definitely enjoyable for a cozy night in when its cold outside.

7/10