Review- Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)

Review- Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)

The first thing I noticed when watching this Tigon film was the incredible cast. It’s like a wet dream for horror fans (Boris Karloff! Christopher Lee! Barbara Steele !) A welcome surprise was seeing that Mark Eden who played Alan Bradley from Coronation Street was also in the cast.


Eden plays Robert Manning who is searching for his brother who was going to Greymarsh, the town where they grew up. Robert heads to the property his brother was staying in, Craxted Lodge and finds a party to be in full swing. He meets a partygoer, Eve whose uncle, Morley (Christopher Lee) owns the property. Eve introduces them but Morley doesn’t know of Robert’s brother and convinces him to stay the night so that he can continue to look for his brother the next day. His sleep is disturbed by a very trippy nightmare that depicts some kind of ritual and a green witch (Steele) presiding over proceedings.  The next day Robert is introduced to Professor John Marsh (Karloff) who just so happens to have a collection of torture implements (red flag or red herring?) and is an expert in witchcraft and the occult (red flag or red herring?). Robert continues to search for his brother and have even freakier and frighteningly real nightmares.


I loved this Vernon Sewell-directed British horror film. I love how late 60s Swinging London culture had permeated into the film, with the party being a full-on groovy happening, man with body painting and bright colours. The filmmakers were obviously not just going for the horror crowd but also a counterculture demographic who went to see far-out movies late at night.

But this isn’t the only sequence that utilised a colour palate that could make your eyes water. The dream/nightmare sequences are stunning and very hallucinatory. I love how they end with kaleidoscope-esque visuals. I also love how the jury in the witch’s courtroom all wear animal masks with the goat mask wearer being centre stage. Events are just a little bit kinky too with the muscle-bound blacksmith wearing very skimpy trunks. He looks like he should be in a Frankie Goes To Hollywood video.


I also love how everything is accounted for using logic and rational explanations by the end, a bit like the end of an episode of Scooby Doo. Even the potential plot holes are stitched up (‘Hypnosis!’) But whilst we are led to believe that there is no real (black) magic within the film’s narrative, the film’s final frames prove otherwise.


The entire cast is fantastic and everyone is on top form. Alas, this was to be one of Karloff’s final film appearances before he ascended to the film studio in the sky.

4 stars out of 5


Review- Confessions From A Holiday Camp (1977)

Review- Confessions From A Holiday Camp (1977)

In this final instalment of the Confessions series Timmy Lea has decided to give up the promiscuous trysts with ‘crumpet’ and enters a monastery instead. Just kidding. In this Confessions movie, our heroes Timmy and Sid are working at the Funfrall Holiday Camp. The new manager (John Junkin) is very strict and has ordered Sid to make the beauty contest a roaring success or Sid and Timmy will be fired. Sid asks Timmy to comb the camp for appropriate beauties to enter the contest (of all the people he could have given such a task). He also asks Timmy to keep it in his pants to avoid any potentially embarrassing situations he could be caught in.

confessions from a holiday camp - cinema quad movie poster (1).j
Original Cinema Quad Poster – Movie Film Posters

The theme song for this film is ‘Give Me England’ by none other than renowned 70’s pop group The Wurzels (previous hits include I’m A Cider Drinker and I’ve Got A Brand New Combine Harvester).


Another feature of Confessions From A Holiday Camp is that there are gay and trans characters. Lance Percival plays a fabulous camp colleague of Timmy’s. He puts the camp in holiday camp.

Sample line of dialogue- Timmy approaches a woman with a beauty contest application form- ‘I’d like to enter you (pause) in the beauty contest!’ No, it’s not Pinter but it made me laugh out loud.


The young boy who played Tristan in George and Mildred stars here as a mischievous young scamp. We see him making farting sounds with a balloon as campers are touching their toes during an exercise class.


Confessions From A Holiday Camp is just as funny as the previous entries, the sight gags are just as well executed and the camp quotient is just as high. The only bone (pun not intended) of contention for me is which Confessions film I love the most.

4 stars out of 5

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- 12 Angry Men (1957)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- 12 Angry Men (1957)

A young man is accused of stabbing his abusive father to death. 12 jurors assemble in a room to vote and discuss whether he is guilty or not. The verdict must be unanimous. If there is any reasonable doubt, the men must return a verdict of not guilty. If the young man is found guilty he will be executed by electric chair. The men hold a preliminary vote in which everyone states that they think the young man is guilty- except one. Juror 8 (Henry Fonda) states that he would like to discuss the crime and the events surrounding it with the other jurors.


12 Angry Men is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking. It was originally performed as a teleplay of the same name and then adapted for the stage and then this feature film production. The cast here is flawless and includes such luminaries as Martin Balsam, E.G. Marshall and Jack Warden.

Regarding the men on the jury, there is such a diversity of social class, opinion and experience. We have the blue-collar worker rubbing shoulders with an architect and advertising executive. We also have a wide range of ages.


It feels like all of life is here. We have the jurors who have let their prejudices regarding class and race cloud their objectivity and hence why they think he is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. We also have those who have the strength to hold their own opinions in the face of opposition or at least are willing to discuss them with the other jurors even though everyone else thinks that the accused is guilty. There are also the jurors who have the strength to change their opinion from guilty to not guilty. Finally, we have those who go with the majority no matter what. They just want to fit in with no thought of their own. I couldn’t help but think of social media comment sections on news stories when I watched 12 Angry Men.

Through logic and by using his intellect, Juror 8 demonstrates how the accused could very well be not guilty. Juror 8 is akin to a saint in a white suit. This is in stark contrast to Juror 10 (Ed Begley) and his vile out-and-out lynch-mob racism and the loud-mouthed rage-consumed tirades of Juror 3 (J Lee Cobb) who is ready to send the young man to the electric chair and will relish it when it happens. In fact, it’s this character who goes through the biggest character arc by the end of the film as it’s obvious that he is projecting his estranged relationship with his son onto the young man who stands accused. This final scene with this character is extremely powerful as is the aftermath with Fonda helping him put on his suit jacket as the men leave the room.


The fact that all of the action mostly takes place in one room but never feels tired or monotonous is another reason why director Sidney Lumet did such a sterling job. I love the fact that it’s a sweltering day when all of the action takes place. These are the perfect conditions for such a tinderbox of a movie. You can almost feel the heat.


In fact one of the scenes that doesn’t take place in this room is at the very start of the movie when we see the jurors leaving the courtroom. Powerfully, we also see the young man whose life hangs in the balance.

I also love that for most of the film, there are no character names but just juror numbers. Earlier on in the film when a juror’s name is asked to be verified on a list, the character doesn’t state his name but points to it on a checklist. Only two names are revealed and this is during the film’s conclusion.


12 Angry Men was remade in 1997 by William Friedkin. In anyone else’s hands, this remake would have felt unnecessary and a pale imitation. In Friedkin’s hands, it’s amazing and well worth checking out.

But the original is the best. It would sound like a hackneyed cliche to state that 12 Angry Men is just as relevant now as it was when it was made. But it’s true.

Review- Countess Dracula (1971)

Review- Countess Dracula (1971)

A little anecdote before I start my review. I lived in London where I went to university and studied Film. I stayed on after uni for 13 years. There were many famous people who I respected that I saw in passing and spoke to. It would take one hell of a celebrity for me to feel starstruck and not have the balls to go up and chat to. One such person was Ingrid Pitt. I’ve been smitten with this divine creature ever since I saw her in horror films when I was a boy. She was standing on a Tube station platform and I couldn’t believe my eyes. She was as regal and gorgeous as ever and she stood in such high standing for me that I was too intimidated to go up and say hello. Now, on with the review…

I first saw Countess Dracula in 1987 when Tyne Tees Television were showing most of Hammer Studio’s glorious output. The film is based on the real-life figure of Elizabeth Bathory. Pitt plays Countess Elizabeth Nadasdy who becomes younger when she bathes in the blood of young female virgins. When Elizabeth becomes younger she takes on the identity of her 17-year-old daughter Ilona whom she has arranged to be held captive in a secluded hut in a nearby forest so that Elizabeth’s secret isn’t exposed.


This film is glorious. It’s risque because of its subject matter and also brings in other taboo (for those times) elements such as lesbianism. Countess Dracula feels like it was pushing boundaries in film and clearly relishes doing it.

It’s also risque because it’s just a little bit rude. I love the scene where Elizabeth speaks to young Lieutenant Imre Toth for the first time and her gaze lowers from his face to, erm, lower down on his body. Pitt is perfect casting as the Countess with a simmering, smouldering sexuality and natural charm that is possessed in spades by the actress.


There’s also some cracking dialogue within the film. When a domestic states that her daughter is missing, Elizabeth’s husband Captain Dobi pithily replies ‘Have you tried the local whorehouse?’ I thought I was watching a John Waters film for a moment.


I also love the fact that Elizabeth gets craggier and appears to decompose when she hasn’t bathed in blood for a while. The fact that this happens suddenly and not gradually is also another great feature of the narrative and rather unfortunate for Elizabeth.

This also happens in reverse- when she receives the youth-giving elixir of a virgin’s blood, she instantly appears younger. The sequence in which a domestic cuts herself very badly with the blood splattering on Elizabeth who instantly appears younger and is revitalised is fantastic.


Countess Dracula is one of my favourite Hammer films. Perfectly cast, shot and scripted. It also introduced me to the goddess that is Ingrid Pitt. Job done.

4 stars out of 5

Review- Cisco Pike (1972)

Review- Cisco Pike (1972)

Musician Cisco Pike has been arrested for drug dealing. We see him trying to pawn his guitar. He can’t pawn it and comes home to find that his latest demos have been rejected. A cop called Leo Holland approaches Pike with a deal- to sell a massive amount of marijuana that he has, ahem, acquired. He needs $10,000 and gives Pike 59 hours to sell it. Any excess money he can keep along with having his most recent arrest paperwork altered if the case goes to trial so that he gets off. Pike agrees but things go wrong when mid-sale, a buyer sees Holland spying on them. He takes off, Pike angrily returns the drugs to Holland but is later confronted by the cop who beats him and threatens to kill him if Pike doesn’t continue with the sales.


This is an impressive slice of New Hollywood with the rulebook being ripped up. Cisco Pike was made by Columbia Pictures and it feels like they were trying to tap into a counter-culture demographic. The film could happily have been shown in regular movie theatres but also drive-ins, grindhouse cinemas and programmed for midnight screenings. I can imagine the smell of Mary Jane at these screenings.


The fact that the film is about a corrupt cop approaching a drug dealer (who to his credit is trying to go straight) to sell a vast amount of weed that he has stolen feels very ‘new’ within the confines of mainstream Hollywood also. The cast is fantastic with Kris Kristofferson making his film debut and doing a great job as well as Gene Hackman as Holland and Karen Black as Cisco’s love interest. The supporting cast is also impressive with Warhol superstar Viva and Harry Dean Stanton (credited here as H.D. Stanton) featuring.


I loved the oh-so-trippy filmmaking techniques used. Let’s just say there’s a lot of handheld cameras used. Another example of the rulebook being ripped up. Or used to make roaches.

Look out for the Blu Ray released by the ever-brilliant Indicator label. It’s fantastic.

3.5 stars out of 5

Review- Die! Die! My Darling! (1965)

Review- Die! Die! My Darling! (1965)

The first thing I marvelled at regarding Die! Die! My Darling! (aka Fanatic) was the frankly amazing cast. Stephanie Powers, Donald Sutherland, Yootha Joyce and Tallulah Bankhead. That is one hell of a roll call. And what makes it even better is that the film makes every actor step out of their comfort zone and show that they can actually act. And they do a brilliant job. The film is also made by the Hammer Studios, another sign that this is going to be fantastic. And it is.

The film concerns Patricia Carroll (Powers) who arrives in London and decides to visit the mother (Mrs Trefoile played by Bankhead) of the man she was due to marry but who killed himself. Carroll has moved on with her life since then and is in London to marry someone else. On visiting the devoutly religious matriarch, she is forced to stay in Trefoile’s secluded abode against her will and locked in. Mrs Trefoile has domestic staff who aid her in ensuring that Patricia doesn’t leave or get help (Joyce without her trademark blonde hair and Sutherland playing a mentally disadvantaged albino!)


This is such a terrific film. I love its pessimism with every step Patricia takes to either escape or try to get someone to rescue her failing spectacularly. In fact, this level of pessimism reminded me of George A Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.


The cast really is playing against type with their characters too. Bankhead is far from the glamourpuss she is in most of her films, Joyce’s character couldn’t be more removed from her character of Mildred in Man About The House and George & Mildred. Here she’s a raven-haired domestic help and sadist. She’s utterly convincing. Sutherland is frankly astonishing in his role as the mentally disadvantaged albino gardener. I love how Joyce’s character appears to be unsure in some scenes regarding her allegiances to Mrs Trefoile and that the groundsman is shown shooting tin cans that he has attached pictures of Trefoile to. Before he is bumped off by her that is.


I also loved the look of the film with the greys and beiges of the majority of Mr Trefoile’s abode but the opulence and colour of the one room in which all of the artefacts from her past are including the huge portrait of her dead son.


Mrs Trefoile reminded me of Mrs Voorhees in the first Friday the 13th film but also reminded me of Bette Davis in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? Her performance really is one of those turns which is delightfully demented. You can tell Bankhead relished playing it.

4 stars out of 5

Review- Rocky III (1982)

Review- Rocky III (1982)

The plot outline for this latest instalment in the Rocky franchise comes from the film’s novelization-

‘Three years have passed since Rocky fought Apollo Creed, years of enjoying easy fights and a happy home life with Adrian.

But now a vicious, young fighter named Clubber Lang, jealous of Rocky’s success has challenged him to a bout.

Can our out-of-shape hero beat this young upstart? Rocky’s got the guts, the heart, and the courage. And if that’s not enough, he’s getting help – from none other than Apollo Creed himself!

Rocky III, the legend continues…’


I love the third instalments of franchises. I remember the trend in cinemas when I was growing up of the triple-bill. It was like the ultimate reward for fans of franchises that had made it to a third film. Star Wars, The Omen and Rocky all had triple bills. All of those glorious hours in the cinema.


Third instalments of franchises in the 80s also seemed to involve the filmmaker incorporating other pop culture into their films to show they have their fingers on the pulse. Superman III had Atari, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors weaved in some Dungeons and Dragons into its storyline, Friday the 13th Part 3 utilised 3D as its gimmick. And what does Rocky III use? Wrestling! Too cool. The sequence in which Rocky takes on wrestler Thunderlips (whoever came up with that name is a genius. I instantly thought of L7’s cameo in John Waters’ Serial Mom in which they were called Camel Lips) played by wrestling legend Hulk Hogan is one of the most mental sequences I’ve ever seen. I loved it. I also love the idea of snooty film critics such as Pauline Kael, Janet Maslin and Siskel and Ebert having to watch something as ‘low-brow’ (i.e. popular) as a wrestling bout.

The casting of a then unknown Mr T as Clubber Lang was also a stroke of genius. I love that the film’s casting agents even visited some of the worst prisons in America in their search for an intimidating enough opponent for Balboa in this instalment before coming across the future A-Team star. Mr T gives a great performance and has some amazing one-liners. When asks what his prediction is for his fight with Balboa, he replies ‘PAIN!’

Of course, tragedy has to strike within a Rocky sequel. This time it’s the turn of Mickey, Rocky’s trainer who goes to the great gym in the sky. Burgess Meredith’s performance in all of the first three Rocky films was amazing, especially when you see him in other movies and TV series. I watched Magic recently and his turn as the wealthy movie agent Ben Greene was amazing and completely different to his turn as Mickey here. Before Mickey shuffles off this mortal coil, he offers Rocky some advice. He states that the biggest threat to a fighter’s hunger to win is when he becomes ‘civilised’. We see this during some earlier sequences with Rocky advertising products such as American Express cards (I take it these ads went better than the ones we saw him attempting in Rocky II) and appearing on The Muppet Show (surely any celebrities high point). Rocky, Adrian and their son now live in a mansion, have staff and Rocky now dresses more like someone who works on Wall Street than the regular Joe he was in the earlier films.

I love that none other than Apollo Creed replaces Mickey as Rocky’s trainer with the aim of trying to make him hungry again. The training sequences (another staple of the Rocky franchise which works so well) show Rocky to be lacklustre at first but then locate the passion and desire to win again. These sequences are something else as we see Apollo wearing a crop top for one of these scenes and later get to see Rocky wearing not just a crop top but a headband (!) to boot. When Rocky has relocated his killer instinct there are also scenes of both characters frolicking in the sea together. Such joyous scenes of male bonding and gay abandon. I wonder if the pair planned a weekend in Fire Island after Rock won his second fight and took back the title.

Rocky III is a fantastic film and shows that the franchise was still full of vitality, brilliant ideas and far from becoming tired or listless. I was going to say that Rocky III might be my favourite film in the franchise but I know the entry that is coming next. Rocky IV was the first Rocky film I got to see in a cinema rather than on video and is one hell of a movie. Review coming soon.

4 stars out of 5

Review- Chariots Of Fire (1981)

Review- Chariots Of Fire (1981)

I remember the release of Chariots of Fire so vividly from my childhood. I also remember how it won multiple awards and that this was like the kiss of death for me. You see, the films I normally watch don’t win Oscars, BAFTAs or any kind of mainstream awards. I associate these awards with boring fare that appeals to Guardian readers. The kind of movies that are perfectly crafted but as much fun as disembowelling yourself. If anyone had tried to start a conversation about Chariots of Fire when I was growing up in the 80s, I would have asked, ‘But is it better than The Burning? Friday the 13th Part 2? Cannibal Apocalypse?’

chariots of fire - cinema quad movie poster (1).jpg

But, I’ve just watched Chariots for the first ever time for two reasons. Firstly, there’s a track on the soundtrack for Halloween 3: Season of the Witch called Chariots of Pumpkins which is a reference to the award-winning film (where were the Oscar nominations for H3? Fools!) and also because Chariots director Hugh Hudson has just passed away. Chariots had been on my TiVo for ages and so now was as good an opportunity to watch as ever.

On watching the film I can report back that Ian Holm from Alien is in it (Chariots would have been made only a couple of years after) and SO IS BRAD DAVIS!!! How did I not know that one of my favourite actors was in this movie?! Chariots was made just one year before Brad went on to star in Fassbinder’s masterpiece, Querelle.



I can also report back from the dark side known as ‘respectable cinema’ that Chariots rocked my world. No, I won’t be abandoning my weird tastes in movies just yet and swapping my slasher movies for copies of fare such as Gandhi and Citizen Kane, but it’s hard to deny the awe, majesty and emotions that Chariots evokes.

The film charts the journey of Eric Liddell, a Scottish devout Christian and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew, to the Olympic Games. Liddell says he runs for God, whilst Abrahams says his running acts as an antidote to the discrimination some Jewish people such as himself face.


Everyone has seen the scenes of the men running in slow-motion whilst the iconic Vangelis theme plays over the soundtrack. It’s a shame that only this piece of music from the soundtrack is so well known as all of the OST is just as visionary, breathtaking and awe-inspiring.


I actually went to a private school (and hated the experience) and so I could relate to the kind of locales depicted in the film. They are depicted lovingly well here and almost make me fondly nostalgic for my own school days. Almost.


Chariots of Fire is beautifully photographed and framed. There were many points within the film that I thought to myself, ‘I’d love to see this on the big screen’. Could you imagine Chariots in IMAX?

The acting, as you’d expect from a film that critics fell over themselves to lavish praise upon, is uniformly brilliant. It’s also great to see actors such as Holm and Davis who made eclectic and brilliant choices regarding the films they chose to star in. Sir John Gielgud also stars not long after having been in the masterpiece comedy, Arthur.

So, there you have it. I’ve dipped my toe in the world of respectable cinema and I loved it. But I won’t be watching Casablanca any time soon.

5 stars out of 5

Review- Magic (1978)

Review- Magic (1978)

After Corky Withers (Anthony Hopkins) bombs as a magician at a nightclub amateur night, he changes tack and ploughs ahead with the aid of a gimmick- a ventriloquist’s dummy named Fats. After a year of hard slog, he becomes well-known and even attracts the attention of an agent (Burgess Meredith). He’s on the verge of superstardom but for no explicable reason won’t take a medical check which is needed before he’s allowed to appear on network television. In frustration, he escapes to The Catskills where he grew up and hooks up with Peggy Ann Snow (Ann-Margret) the woman he first had a crush on in high school.


We see Corky start to descend into madness, as Fats becomes almost like a separate entity. All of the most macabre thoughts Corky has Fats blurts out. Soon Fats is telling Corky who he should bump off and how to hide the body. The first victim is Corky’s agent who inadvertently sees Corky and Fats conversing as if Fats is a real person rather than a doll and shows how advanced Corky’s madness is.


After a slow start, once the madness and murder start there’s no stopping it. I like that. It’s not obvious from the opening act of the film that it is actually a horror movie and so when the insanity rears its head, it’s a genuine surprise.

Magic is a showcase for what a fantastic actor Anthony Hopkins is. In fact, there are universally brilliant performances all around. I love the way that Fats acts as the devil on Corky’s shoulder, a manifestation of his murderous impulses.

Magic is also a fantastic New York movie before the film switches to the gorgeous locales of The Catskills.

Film critic Gene Siskel was so impressed by the film that he awarded it 4 stars out of 4 and made it one of his favourite films of 1978. But the film received the ultimate accolade. It was awarded its own poster magazine. Who wouldn’t want a large fold-out poster of a homicidal ventriloquist’s dummy?!


4 stars out of 5

Review- Poltergeist (1982)

Review- Poltergeist (1982)

Another film that was ripe for a rewatching since I last watched it on VHS in the 80s was Poltergeist, the horror film directed by Steven Spielberg Tobe Hooper.


The first thing I noticed was how gorgeous the film looks in widescreen. How I, or indeed, any of us watched the film in pan and scan on video is beyond me.

It’s funny how my opinion hasn’t changed since the 80s though. The film doesn’t seem to know what genre it is. It’s part family film (and very Spielberg with it) but it also feels like a fantasy film and lastly, ironically, horror. It does all three really well but I’m here to watch a horror movie, goddammit!

Hooper scene

The horror sequences are brilliantly executed such as the face peel scene, the clown scare and the apocalyptic scene involving the tree coming to life. Also, the subtle scares such as Carol-Ann talking to the TV that is showing only static is very unsettling indeed. I always think of these as Hooper moments within the film.

Definitely a Hooper scene!

I don’t know where we’re at with the differing accounts of whether Spielberg or Hooper actually directed the majority of the film but it seems to me to be obvious that he did. If this had been primarily a Hooper project, Poltergeist would have been much darker, much scarier and would possess fewer scenes that are of a ‘horror film made for all the family’ vibe. Poltergeist, as it is, is almost unbearably Hollywood, with too much gloss and resplendent with a big bombastic film score.

But, compared to the remake that came out decades later, this original Poltergeist is Citizen Kane. I remember watching the remake in the cinema and actually thinking to myself, ‘I don’t care about a single character in this film!’ Quite a feat. In the original, I thought all of the characters were likeable. And Craig T Nelson is always easy on the eye.

Hottie Craig T Nelson

2.5 stars out of 5