If horror and mystery stories are a regular part of your summer reading, you may want to consider these two classic horror/mystery hybrid films as a companion for a hot night in front of the air conditioner. Kino Lorber is re-releasing excellent adaptations of classic stories from Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, both loaded with horror film tropes from seasoned directors and studios.
HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES DVD (Kino Lorber)
There are over twenty film and television adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic story of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Hammer Film Productions were in the height of their infamous revamps of classic horror franchises when they turned their attention on the timeless detective. Hound was meant to launch a series, but the lack of Hammer monsters kept people away at the box office. Hammer left its signature on this film with trademark paint can blood, brooding organ music, and a gothic setting to the first Holmes mystery ever to be filmed in color. Peter Cushing’s Holmes was also well informed as he was an acute fan of the books and brought many of Holmes’ mannerisms to the screen.
André Morell’s performance of a more competent Dr. Watson was also praised as a more accurate reading of the character from the original stories and an antithesis to the much beloved and remembered bumbling portrayal in the earlier films where Nigel Bruce portrayed Watson regularly to Basil Rathbone’s Holmes. The combination of these elements brings an unmistakably stylish approach to a one-of-a-kind production. -Billups Allen
Hound of the Baskervilles
dir. Terence Fisher, 1959, color, 87 min.
DVD and Blu-ray at Kino Lorber Home Video.
TEN LITTLE INDIANS DVD (Kino Lorber)
Peter Collinson’s 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christies’ Ten Little Indians was obscured at the time by a star-studded version of Murder on the Orient Express of the same year. Collinson’s penchant for mysteries laced with dark corners and suspense is apparent in The Spiral Staircase (1975) and his 1969 classic The Italian Job. If Murder was a star vehicle, Ten Little Indians is the character actor’s exercise. Adolfo Celi and Gert Frobe both appeared in early James Bond films as baddies. Herbert Lom also stands out among an excellent cast as the calculating Dr. Edward Armstrong. Filmed at the Abbasi Hotel in Iran, the location is a perfect modern gothic location for dark lighting and grisly murders. There is a pinch of classic horror attached to this classic tale of ten people lured to a remote location and picked off as revenge for past transgressions one at a time by an unnamed entity. – Billups Allen
Ten Little Indians
dir. Peter Collinson, 1974, color, 98 min.
DVD and Blu-ray at Kino Lorber Home Video.
Ray Wise’s name rarely appears early in the credits. Most often it shows up after a few names have passed. Wise doesn’t often garner top billing. But with a combination of histrionic acting and a smile range from hiding something to downright evil, Wise has the presence to make at least a few people in the theater grin when his name appears.
Wise’s appears often on the sidelines. Wise brought his unstable persona alongside Miguel Ferrer as henchman Leon Nash in Paul Verrhoven’s classic Robocop (1987). He also voiced Commissioner Gordon in the recent animated version of Alan Moore’s classic Batman comic The Killing Joke (2016). He is best known as Leland Palmer, the unbalanced and paranoid father of Laura Palmer on the cult pillar Twin Peaks (1990-1991). Wise’s everyman look, crazy blue eyes, and ability to spiral dark emotions with harrowing howls and werewolf-esque motions gives Nicolas Cage a run for the money in the category of bizarre performances. But to really get Wised, check out the 2003 direct to video (or whatever they call that now) Dead End. Wise carries the film along with second-string stalwart Lin Shayne as quarreling parents on a road trip detour that forces them into a journey into the repetitive. If you can’t get enough, Wise elevates Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003) as the harpoon-wielding farmer out for revenge against a creature no one understands. I won’t say it’s underrated, but it’s enjoyable to a point, especially if you liked the first one.
Ray Wise can switch gears from calm to completely frantic in seconds and deliver humor to a tense situation. His nuclear family-style charm and sinister presence makes him a unique character actor.
How cool is he? Check out his PSA against bullying:
Director: Joseph Sargent
MCA Home Video
The 80s was a great time for low-budget horror anthologies. Creepshow (1982) helped revive the horror anthology going strong in Britain in the early seventies with comic adapted films like Tales from the Crypt (1972) and Vault of Horror (1973). While Creepshow had a one two punch with a script by Stephen King directed by George Romero, 1983’s Nightmares did not have the same cache. However the film has a respectable cast and a few good short stories with some interesting twists.
The film opens with “Terror in Topanga,” a story about an escaped psychopath terrorizing a small community. It wouldn’t be a story if someone didn’t go out for cigarettes. The twist in the story closely resembles an urban myth, but it’s a fun story and Fear front man Lee Ving is among the players.
The most unique story in the anthology is the second story: “The Bishop of Battle.” This chapter finds Emilio Estevez between his success in The Outsiders and his eventual ascension into cult stardom in Repo Man. Estevez plays J.J. Cooney, a video game hustler (I only hope there really were video game hustlers) who goes from arcade to arcade listening to Fear on his walkman and hustling people out of their allowances with his video game prowess. Cooney does this because he’s obsessed with a video game called The Bishop of Battle. Cooney is convinced there is an unreachable 13th level that will validate his existence. A clandestine moment can be had with fans of the movie with the game’s opening warning: “Greetings Earthlings. I am the Bishop of Battle, master of all I survey. I have 13 progressively harder levels. Try me…if you dare.” If you consider what can go wrong here for a moment, you can probably work out the twist ending, but for a glimpse into early Estevez and a good representation of early arcade culture, the second chapter of Nightmares is a must see.
Story three has two things working for it: one is the ever effective Lance Henriksen playing a priest, and two, it recognizes the length of time the man vs. car plotline can remain interesting. Henriksen plays Macleod, a priest struggling with his faith until he is faced with battling a satanic car. It sounds a little trite, but Henriksen makes it work. His ability to struggle with evil is inherent and he makes the story work. There is a similar dynamic in “Night of the Rat,” where professional hysteric Veronica Cartwright improves the typical giant rat narrative. Cartwright is a freak out expert bringing her pushed-over-the-edge persona to films like Alien (1979), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and The Right Stuff (1983). Nightmares won’t blow your mind, but it’s a great Saturday night horror anthology with good performances, punk undertones, and a few surprises. It’s been released a couple of times on DVD, but it’s an easy video to run across in a dollar bin as it’s usually in the throwaway section of stacks of horror videos. It’s easily a dollar or two’s worth of fun.
SHOCK CINEMA 51
For people who get distracted at the movies trying to recall where they’ve seen that actor before, Shock Cinema is essential reading. Shock focuses on in-depth interviews with character actors from old Hollywood, new Hollywood, and cult films along with extensive reviews of obscure DVD releases and eclectic film books. Attractive and affordable, issue 51 includes interviews with Dabney Coleman and the king of the southern gothic deadpan reaction, Tracey Walter. It’s always a cover-to-cover read. In the age of high print costs and $12 movie mags, it’s a serious bargain at $5 an issue. –Billups Allen
P.O Box 798
Edgewater, NJ 07020
The Producers (1968) and Blazing Saddles (1974) honed one of the great Hollywood dream teams. Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder were in top form when Wilder’s pet project Young Frankenstein was due to be shot on a modest budget from a weary studio. The result is one of the greatest comedy spoofs. Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Wilder) is a young scientist trying to separate himself from his grandfather’s legacy of wild experiments. On track to marry a wealthy socialite (Madeleine Kahn), Frankenstein is side tracked when he inherits his grandfather’s castle. There he meets the stern Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman), the bizarre manservant Igor (Marty Feldman), and Inga (Teri Garr) his new assistant who often unintentionally distracts him from his engagement. Frankenstein’s surroundings and newfound associates drive him to madness and instill in him a desire to continue his grandfather’s infamous experiments.
Shot in black and white to imitate the look of the early Universal monster movies it pays homage to and with one of the greatest ensemble casts ever assembled, Young Frankenstein has become a favorite of horror and comedy fans alike.
Playing Saturday, January 28, 2017-7:00
AFI Silver Theater
8633 Colesville Road
Silver Spring, MD 20910