Tag Archives: Christopher Lee

Saturday is Horror Day #39 – The Raven (2012), Horror Express

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

The Raven

Baltimore is being plagued by a series of strange murders which have left the police baffled. The latest involves a mother and daughter found dead in a locked room with no exit. Detective Fields (Luke Evans) thinks the scenario sounds author. Author Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) has a reputation more for being an alcoholic than a writer, and he’s worn out his welcome in more than a few places. His girlfriend, Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve) has a disgruntled father on the police force (Brendan Gleeson), who has no use for the writer and threatens him if he should come near his daughter again.

Recognizing that the murders have been inspired by the works of Poe, Fields approaches him and enlists Poe’s reluctant aid in solving the murders. The serial killer is obviously enamored of Poe’s fiction, and has imitated such stories as Murders in the Rue Morgue. Emily’s father is giving a ball, to which Poe has pointedly not been invited, although they have secretly planned to announce their engagement that night. Fields warns the captain to cancel the ball, but to no avail. Realizing that this is just like The Masque of the Red Death, Poe sneaks inside to await the killer. But when the man dressed as Death rides into the company, it turns out he is just a diversion for the real crime – the kidnapping of Emily. Things just got real.


Hamilton reluctantly accepts Poe’s help as they race against time to rescue Emily. But the killer is adept at spreading false clues. Poe is afraid if they don’t find her, she will die. He would rather give up  his life in exchange for hers. Will that become necessary.

This is a pretty good cast, especially John Cusack as the alcoholic writer. At the beginning of the film,

the question is posed regarding the last few days of Poe’s life, before he is found on a park bench. I don’t believe this movie answers that question, at least not in my mind. As I said, good cast. I liked Luke Evans in The Alienist, and the young policeman, John Cantrell, is played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen, whom I liked in The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor. The newspaper editor is played by Kevin McNally, who played in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie as Gibbs. The story is an interesting one. Direction seemed good. And yet I thought it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. The only real passion seen is that of Poe himself, and Detective Fields.  No build-up of tension, no real excitement. The revelation of the killer is almost an anti-climax. I’m not sure if that’s a matter of editing or not, maybe better pacing? Or is it the writing itself? It was fun to see how much of Poe’s work would be referenced. I think, on the whole, the story needed to be edgier. As I listened to the music in the ending credits, I couldn’t help but think the movie could have matched that in edginess and would have had a better feel.  More depth. It was, as I said interesting, but it could have been more. I’ll give it 3.5 Stars.

Horror Express

While on an expedition in China, British anthropologist Professor Saxton (Christopher Lee) discovers an interesting specimen, a half human creature that may be millions of years old. While waiting to transport it aboard the Trans-Siberian Express, he runs into rival anthropologist Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing). They are obviously not the best of friends, and Saxton works to conceal his find from Wells. At the station, two men turn up dead, their eyes turned white. But no one has a clue as to what has happened.

Room on the train is scarce, as Saxton and Wells discover when they end up as roommates. Also on the train are Countess Irina Petrovska (Silvia Tortosa), her husband Maryan (George Rigaud) and a monk, Father Pujardov (Albert de Mendoza) who besides being rather religious seems very devoted to the Countess and resembles the mad monk Grigori Rasputin. Wells is traveling with his assistant, Miss Jones (Alice Reinhart), as well as a Russian beauty (Helga Liné). The Count and Countess are not what they appear to be, and seem intent on seducing Dr. Wells. Wells is more interested in what Saxton has brought with them, and bribes the baggage man to take a peek when no one is around. That does not turn out well for him.


The dead all have the same strange white eyes. The two professors perform an autopsy on the baggage 

 man and discover that his brain is smooth, unlike a normal brain, which has a wrinkled surface. Also, the creature Saxton has discovered and brought onto the train has disappeared! Is there a link between the murders and this thing, whatever it might be?

This film was made in 1972 and reminded me of a Spanish Hammer film. Yes, there are some things about it that are a bit hokey, such as the special effects. But there are also some things I’ve never seen in a horror film, such as the prehistoric vampire who doesn’t drink blood but sucks people’s thoughts via his glowing red eyes. 


Also, there is Cushing and Lee. They are worth watching at any time, two great horror actors that I love! Although rivals, they are forced to work together to solve these murders. Then you have an unexpected appearance by Telly Savalas as a Russian cossack policeman who is more than a little flambuoyant.  Prehistoric vampire, Trans-Siberian railroad, zombies, and Telly Savalas, along with Cushing and Lee – a recipe for fun. I enjoyed this film and will give it a solid 3.5 Stars.

Saturday is Horror Day #21 – The Return of the Living Dead, The City of the Dead

The Return of the Living Dead

Freddy (Thom Matthews) has just begun a new job at a medical supply company, joining the ranks of the gainfully employed. His boss, Burt (Clu Gulager) seems like a good guy, and leaves Freddy in the hands of his co-worker, Frank (James Karen). Frank proceeds to show Freddy the ropes. The company has all sort of odd items, such as skeletons for medical schools, and half dogs, for veterinarian schools, and even fresh cadavers in the walk-in. While swapping strange stories, Frank tells Freddy about the weird cannisters that are stored there, something to do with the army. Of course Freddy wants to see them, who wouldn’t? But things go horribly wrong when Frank accidental strikes one of the tanks, releasing some kind of noxious gas.

Freddy’s girlfriend Tina (Beverly Randolph) is riding around with some of her friends, trying to figure out what to do. A rather eclectic group, running the gamut from Goth to glam, they’re bored, and the driver refuses to go anywhere without receiving gas money. Tina suggests they pick up Freddy from work, which idea is enthusiastically received as he always knows where there’s a part. But he won’t get off for two hours, so they head to Resurrection Cemetery to hang out, right across the street from the medical supply house.

There, Trash (Linnea Quigley) reveals to Spider (Miguel A. Nunez Jr) her fantasies about death, and her fears of dying surrounded by old men who eat her. This leads to her getting naked on top of a crypt.  In the meantime, Frank and Freddy become freaked out, not just by what they did, but by strange sounds inside the warehouse. Imagine their surprise to find one of the half dogs barking! And the cadavers are trying to break out of the walk-in cooler, just like in the story Frank had told Freedy.

The two men try to handle the situation, but finally give up and call Burt to come back to work. When

he finds out what happened, he is appalled, having warned Frank many times to stay away from those tanks! Be that as it may, they have to deal with what’s going on, so Burt calls on his good friend Ernie (Don Calfa), who has the mortuary across the street. They try to pawn off a story about rabid weasels on Ernie, but that doesn’t fly, and they are forced to not only tell him but truth, but show him. The only thing he can think to do is to burn the evidence in the crematorium, which of course sends the smoke up into the air, and then the toxic chemicals end up being rained back down and seeping into the ground… reanimating the corpses in the cemetery!

This movie is both a horror film and a comedy, and I have to say I think it’s better than most of George Romero’s films (except for the original Night of the Living Dead). These zombies are not shambling brainless hulks, they are cleverer than some of the teens, and are smart enough to realize how to get people to send more fresh meat.

Frank and Freddy are hilarious as the duo who start this entire zombie apocalypse, and Clu Gulager does a great job as Burt and ditto for Don Calfa as Ernie. And c’mon, it’s Burt and Ernie. You don’t think that’s a coincidence, right? That reminds me of a Burt and Ernie in the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life, which obviously predates Sesame Street, and I believe the Sesame Street writers got the names of their characters from there.

The music is fitting, some kind of punk, I think, and helps drive this film along. The writing is most excellent, and how surprising is that since this is a Dan O’Bannion film!  You remember Dan from Alien, right? The movie ends with the protagonists appealing to the army to help them, as per the phone number on the tanks. But you can only imagine the sort of help the military is willing to give when it comes to covering up a mistake. The ending leaves no doubt there is more to the story…. and there is.

I give this film a solid 4.5 Stars.

Before I go to the next review, I just want to mention that I tried to watch George Romero’s Day of the Dead, but I turned it off because it bored me. So I can’t really give it a review, since I didn’t finish it, but maybe that says enough.

The City of the Dead

When a woman accused of witchcraft is burned at the stake in 1692, she curses the village that condemned her even as she makes a pact with Lucifer.

Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) is a young college coed with a bright future ahead of her. Determined to attain her history degree, she intends to work on her paper as much as she can, even if she has to miss spending time with her boyfriend, Bill (Tom Naylor) in order to do so. Professor Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee) suggests Nan go to the very small town he had just lectured about where a witch was burned years ago, and suggests she stay at the Whitewood Inn – just mention his name. Nan bids her boyfriend and her brother Dick (Dennis Lotis) a fond farewell and heads out to Whitewood.

Stopping for directions, she learns just how seldom this eerie road is traveled, and doesn’t heed his warning not to go on. She picks up a strange man who is hitchhiking, and is also headed to Whitewood. He has an odd way about him, and a deep, resonant voice. But on her arrival, the man has disappeared! Nan goes to the inn, and the proprietress, Mrs. Newless (Patricia Jessel) insists there is no room at the inn until Nan invokes Professor Driscoll’s name, and suddenly there is a room available, so Nan takes it. A young girl named Lottie works at the inn. Lottie is mute, but she seems as though she is trying to tell Nan something but Mrs Newless always finds a way to stop her.

Nan hears things in her room, and when she asks about the strange trap door in the floor, she is told that there is nothing beneath it but dirt. In exploring the town, she goes to the church, but the blind pastor, Reverend Russell, (Norman MacOwan) shoos her away. Borrowing a book about witchcraft from the pastor’s granddaughter, Patricia (Betta St. John), Nan finds out the truth, but it’s too late.

When Nan fails to return after two weeks, and no one has heard from her, her boyfriend and brother

decide enough is enough and trace her footsteps to Whitewood.  The question is will they make it out alive?

This movie is clearly a product of its times, no doubt about that. Having said that, though I wanted to like this film because… well, Christopher Lee… but things made that hard to do. My first question was why does no one in this town notice the perpetual rolling fog that covers the ground at all times (probably to disguise the fact that they’re on a set). But nothing is ever said, as if no one notices. Seriously?

None of this is scary stuff, but in all fairness, perhaps modern moviegoers have come to expect more and have seen this sort of thing a million times. Having said this, what happens comes as no surprise if you look for the signs that are about as bright and easy to see as Rudolf the Reindeer’s red nose! Lottie trying to warn Nan, the mysterious book, even the church, where I saw the name Driscoll on the sign outside but scratched through. The eerie innkeeper who bears a close resemblance to…. no spoilers, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

Some of the acting is better than others. Much as I love Christopher Lee, I can’t say this is his best performance, but he has others beat hands down. What’s worse than the scenery and the acting, though, is the writing. Just not good. The soundtrack is a strange sort of 50s jazz-like sound which seems at odds with what is going on. Predictable and poorly executed. I’ll give this a shaky 2 Stars, and mostly because I love Christopher Lee.