Film Reviews by NP

Welcome to NP's film reviews page. NP has written 652 reviews and rated 748 films.

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X312: Flight to Hell

Jungle jeopardy with Uncle Jess - minor spoilers follow ...

If anyone could manage to produce a jungle action/adventure for the price of a sangria, it would be Jess Franco. Even by 1971, he had carved out a name for himself as being able to make a virtue out of a microscopic budget. However, some films lend themselves better to that arrangement than others. For the dream-like 'horror' films he directed, such cut-price weirdness can actually enhance the overall mood - with a film such as this, where the dangers are more real, the constraints are more obvious.

'Flight to Hell' features prolific Spanish actress Esperanza Roy (as Anna Maria), who shows off a lot more than she did in possibly her better known role of Vivian, the second most glamorous character in 1973's 'The Return of the Evil Dead' (someway behind ruggedly coiffured hero Tony Kendall). There are also a number of faces here that are familiar from other Jess Franco films, most notably Howard Vernon, Paul Müller and Ewa Strömberg. Fernando Sancho is also notable as the dastardly Paco.

'Flight to Hell' is a nicely structured, although not hugely exciting, Franco jungle romp, with various plane crash survivors trying to stay alive in the tropics, whilst keeping their heads amidst greed and squabbles.

There's a fairly sexual lesbian scene involving Anna Maria and Lolita (an uncredited Beni Cardoso), who is introduced purely for that brief moment. This only goes to enflame the passions of Vernon's Pedro (it's a testament to Vernon that his character is pretty convincing despite a very false-looking moustache. His presence lifts any film he is in, even when playing a fairly minor role: this is no exception).

All in all, this will probably suffer the fate of many of Franco's projects - those unfamiliar with his work will note with disdain the constant zooms, meandering plot and murky pacing. Others, who have a fondness for Uncle Jess (like myself) will find the whole venture charming in its way, with a lot to enjoy. Not a major work from the director, this nevertheless entertains for its 86 minutes. My score is 6 out of 10.

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Cannibal Terror

A mixed bag of innards - spoilers.

Often referred to, when it is referred to at all, as a ‘video nasty’ from the 1980s, ‘Cannibal Terror’ is not the work, as some believe, of prolific Spanish Director Jess Franco. French Alain Deruelle can take responsibility for this: Franco was filming ‘White Cannibal Queen’ at the time, and when he stopped filming, Deruelle begun, using the same sets and some cannibals from Jess’s production. This even stars a few names from his repertoire, Pamela Stanford (as Manuela, sporting a black wig) and Antonio Mayans (as the diabolical Mario). Olivier Mathot is also on hand as the rather aged father of little Anabelle. The child is kidnapped (off camera, which is strange for a key dramatic moment), and the ensuing chase to sun-drenched outlands is what fuels the story.

Perhaps dullness is this film’s biggest sin. With such an emotive title, you would expect more spectacle than we get here. It might be unkind to suggest these three are the only actors in the production, but it would be true – and that includes those ‘voice artistes’ responsible for the dubbing. Other cast members are uniformly dreadful, clearly having a bit of a laugh rather than delivering anything, which is absolutely fair enough: view this film in the same way, and you may even enjoy it. But ‘a bit of a laugh’ is stretched following certain distasteful developments ‘Cannibal Terror’ has to offer, as well as the grisly gore close-ups (presumably involving animal innards replicating the human variety).

Purely from a practical view, if you are a fairly inept outlaw on the run with the kidnapped child of a rich family, one of the least sensible things to do is to brutally rape the young wife (Stanford) of the friend who is giving you refuge. This is what Mario does. A couple of scenes later, Manuela instigates a wild party with everyone, dancing and offering to strip and having a laugh. Has she forgotten her earlier trauma? Certainly Mario seems a little grumpy, but apart from that, it is business as usual. Bizarre.

The cannibals are a mixed bunch of awkward-looking, painted youths and middle-aged males, a fact conceded by Deruelle – who has never seen the completed film – who gave up any pretence at authenticity when he saw the paucity of the budget. Nice musical score by Jean-Jacques Lemêtre though, although his theme for the film is as far away from anyone’s idea of ‘terror music’ as you can get. That the cannibals turn out ultimately to be rather nice, especially the younger gang-members, should put a smile on the hardest of faces. My score is 5 out of 10.

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Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties

A rollercoaster that rarely hits the heights - spoilers ...

Prolific Spanish Director Jess Franco’s comedies are far from my favourite films: ‘Kiss Me Monster’, ‘Trip to Bangkok, Coffin Included’ and ‘Red Silk’, to name but three, I find progressively challenging to sit through. It could just be that the humour is lost in translation. Whatever the reason, I much prefer his ‘serious’, more personal, projects.

‘Two Female Spies’, which begins very much as a comedy, features hapless strippers Cecille and Brigitte (Lina Romay and Nadine Pascal) who are released from prison in order to work undercover for the US Government. Pretty unbelievable, and presumably intended to be hilarious and farcical, their mission immediately takes on a far darker tone with the introduction of Adriana (Susan Hemingway), a very young-looking innocent who is hypnotised, kidnapped, tortured and in very protracted scenes, raped. That events continue to shift in tone in such a way throughout make this a truly unpredictable 96 minutes.

Always prolific, Franco may not have had the time to iron out a more consistent approach. Or, and this is not beyond the realms of possibility, the sudden lurching changes between silliness and horrifying cruelty might be entirely deliberate. In many ways, I like this discordance – you really don’t know what kind of story you are delving into. In other ways, it does make for a very choppy experience. And of course, following rape and torture with jollity and titillation is deeply distasteful – but then, this is Jess Franco, who always thrived on being provocative. Problem is, that approach comes at the expense of an involving story, and sadly, ‘Two Female Spies’ proves to be an ultimately dull experience.

The character of Milton (Mel Rodrigo) is most changed by the various different edits of this film (although other characters are deleted altogether). Introduced as an effeminate homosexual, he proves to be the hero of the piece, before renouncing his old sexual ways and vowing to marry Romay’s Cecille. The sight of Romay, dressed in very little but sandals and a shiny swimming cap, tottering over a rocky plain to a void a helicopter, is far from her greatest moment but once again proves that, whatever film she appeared in, she always entered into it whole-heartedly. Sadly her partner in this ‘romp’, Brigitte, succumbs to a fate which is probably the darkest moment this film has to offer. My score is 5 out of 10.

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The Frightened Woman

A mannered trippy experience - minor spoilers ...

Phillippe Leroy plays Dr Sayer, a rich sadist who enjoys degrading and torturing women for kicks. Leroy bears a slight resemblance to latter-day James Bond actor Daniel Craig, which is interesting. Dagmar Lassander is Maria, a journalist who becomes the latest in a long line of females who are subjected to the exploration of Sayer’s virility.

This film has been compared to the works of prolific Spanish director Jess Franco, who specialised in low-budget exploitation. For a story about a sexual sadist, ‘The Laughing Woman’ is ultimately rather mannered, comparatively speaking; we must not forget of course, that Franco was – with all due respect – a joyous pervert. Piero Schivazappa (who co-wrote as well as directed this) seems, by contrast, to be accentuating the trippy, psychedelic wackiness of his story as opposed to the sexually gratuitous, despite a couple of stand-out scenes. One of these scenes involves Sayer, who seems to be getting some roadside relief, spying a passing train resplendent with flapping pink flags, packed with attractive young women blowing suggestively on saxophones. Another involves Sayer disappearing inside a huge polystyrene vagina, outsized legs either side of him.

The ending may not come as a complete surprise to the audience, but it does have a certain sense of satisfaction about it. Getting to that point though, after 108 minutes, is far too long a time for such a thin story. It emerges as a sexually orientated episode of latter-day ‘The Avengers’ (the 1961-69 version starring Patrick Magee), but with no real sense of heart, despite the fine performances. Jess Franco films, to mention him one more time, always had a sense of improvised danger, a natural eye for the unusual whether it be camera style or attention to surrounding detail. Schivazappa, by comparison, is rather more laid back in his approach. My score for this is 5 out of 10.

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Monster

Never really convinces ... spoilers follow.

Ah, video-cam distortion. Where would films like this be without it? Actually, there aren’t many ‘films like this’, although the found footage genre remains a fairly popular one. Fifteen years before ‘Monster’, ‘The Blair Witch Project’ proved you could record a film cheaply from the point-of-view of the characters, and make a critical and financial success of it. Indeed, a common problem you would have if you *really* were to make a home movie in extraordinary circumstances, would be to have sound problems that rendered portions of the dialogue inaudible and lighting issues often making it impossible to work out what was happening. As a commercial venture such as this, these shortfalls just smack of bad film-making. And sadly, ‘Monster’ is a bad film.

The Asylum is a direct-to-video company who have had some success, and some notoriety, producing minimal-budget films in a bid to capitalise on major Hollywood projects of the time. ‘Monster’ is their version of ‘Cloverfield (also 2008)’, in which an outsized creature terrorises a city. Here, two silly girls travel to Japan to produce a documentary about global warming, a world-threatening issue reduced to a wacky school project. Whilst they are there, an earthquake occurs. We know this because there are plentiful overlaid sound-effects of carnage and a very un-Japanese-sounding people panicking. The video-distortion I mentioned kicks in at moments when otherwise we would be treated to a visual representation of the disaster, and saves the production team (if there is one) the trouble of providing any expensive set-pieces. You want a city being destroyed? Shake the camera and apply some break-ups and pixilation problems – that’ll convince the audience something terrible is happening. Of course, when things are calmer, there is no need for distortion and the visuals are as clear as can be.

It is the contempt in which the audience are held that disappoints. The project is massively too ambitious to ever work with such slender means, and to expect anyone to invest in what is at times a brazenly amateurish production such as this is either asking too much, or simply having a laugh.

Sarah Lieving and Erin Sullivan look as panicky and dishevelled as they can without it affecting their looks too much – they even get a ‘Blair Witch’-style moment to tell their parents back home (this is Tokyo, remember) they love them. Bizarrely, they are prone to announcing “We are American,” from time to time, as if their nationality should make them immune from this distress. My heart goes out them though; they do what they can. And to be fair to The Asylum, we do get about thirty seconds of monster action as a CGI tentacled thing makes a lot of noise toward the end. If I had stopped watching halfway through, I would feel very short-changed; hanging around until the end softens my heart towards the production a little. At least it gives us an actual monster, albeit very briefly. The problem is, to reach this point, you have to sit through 90 minutes of a cut-price disaster film that simply cannot produce the goods. My score for this is 3 out of 10.

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D-Day Assassins

Minor spoilers follow ...

Prolific director Andrew Jones has made a name for himself delivering minimally-budgeted projects for over ten years now, and with some success. Usually focusing on horror themes, he eschews spectacular scenarios in favour of telling more intimate character-based tales with a small collection of actors (although here, the cast list is a lot longer than is usual). With these war-based projects, he often chooses to tell stories of American soldiers, using English actors and locations. A recent example of this is 2018's 'Alcatraz' (which employs some of the actors featured here). So although his budget doesn't allow for big action adventures, Jones's ambitions are fairly broad. Whether the results mark this as a good thing or not is up to the individual - for me, it is a mixed bag.

With horror stories, it is easier to overlook slowly-delivered, perfunctory dialogue; this approach, together with occasionally challenging sound-design, can actually enhance the dream-like quality of what you are watching - Jones's series of 'Robert the Doll' films often work because of this. For a reality-based story such as 'D-Day Assassins', such restrictions are more glaring.

With his customary loose approximation of accuracy, 'The Filthy Thirteen' are shown in flashback, as gruff old veteran and survivor Hawkeye (Ryan Michaels) - so gruff in fact, he is sometimes difficult to understand - recounts to a directionless young man (Aaron Jeffcoate) stories of his war-torn youth. This makes up the bulk of the 77 minutes running time. All of this is handsomely filmed, making good use of the location, if rarely evoking the 'feel' of those days (everything is a little too bright for that). Viewers who are knowledgeable about weaponry and clothes used at the time might get a little irritated. For me, such things are not really a huge problem, as long as the story is arresting, which it is for the most part. Even then, although 'D-Day Assassins' is character-based, we never learn much about any of them, other than the struggles they are facing at the given time. My score for this is 6 out of 10.

(For anyone worried about the lack of regular Lee Bane - he's here, but you have to wait to see him, as the vicar and I believe the unseen lawyer right at the end.)

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Killer Barbys vs. Dracula

Latter-day punk rock romp from Uncle Jess Franco - minor spoilers.

This, the sequel to the ‘Vampire Killer Barbys’ travelogue-style curio, comes 6 years after the original: time that has seen a further reduction in the typical budget of a typical Jess Franco film. As far as I can tell, only Billy King returns to play the same character as he did in the first film, although saucy Sylvia Superstar and the excellent Aldo Sambrell (in his last film) also return, playing different people.

We’re also joined here by Franco muse, the tireless Lina Romay as no-nonsense party-pooper Camarada Irina, and former underage ingénue Katja Bienert as Katia. Katia interviews various characters (including fake Dracula Peter Martell), but not The Killer Barbys, indicating her scenes might well have been shot independently from much of the film.

The afore-mentioned Dracula pretender is probably the most interesting character here. Full of indignant protests that he is the REAL Count, Martell’s cadaverous appearance works well wrapped in dark clothes and cape. He isn’t concerned with being out in daylight, but you wouldn’t expect him to be. There are even echoes of John Carradine about him.

All this is scuppered when the real Dracula (Kike Sarasola) turns up. It turns out he is a fan of bubble-gum pop, which is just as well, because this film is interspersed with many ‘live’ numbers from The Killer Barbys, or what remains of their number. Dracula is also unconcerned about appearing in sunlight, although the video filters added to some of his scenes might just be attempting to convince us night has fallen; it is difficult to tell. There’s a blind Doctor ‘Seaward’ character (Dan van Hussen), and even Bela Lugosi gets a mention. But we aren’t encouraged to worry too much about any of that – this is strictly superficial, one-shot silliness and pretends to be little else. Unlike the earlier film, there is no nudity and very little sexual suggestion (although there are a few expletives in the dubbed dialogue), indicating the project has been directed towards juveniles. Again, it is difficult to tell. Who cares really? As for the songs – I’ve heard a lot worse, which is just as well, because there are a lot of them.

Apart from directing, Franco also co-writes this (alongside Romay and José Roberto Vila). My score is 5 out of 10.

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The Duke of Burgundy

Be nasty - spoilers follow ...

I was initially drawn to this production due to the involvement of the mighty Monica Swinn, who had made many sexploitation and horror pictures throughout the 1970s and 1980s; this is her first main feature film since 'Les petites sauvages' (1982). That Swinn only features briefly and without dialogue is the only disappointment I have with 'The Duke of Burgundy'.

Named after the (Hamearis lucina) butterfly, this story features Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who lectures on lepidopterology, and Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna), who appears to be not only one of her students, but her maidservant as well. Cynthia's strictness with Evelyn's hygiene and accuracy initially appears cruel and bullying, but as the standards become more outlandish, it is clear there is something else going on here. They are lovers, whilst Cynthia appears to be the dominating personality, it slowly become apparent it is Evelyn who is making the demands, and they soon become unrelenting. Uninterestingly, I mistook Evelyn's safe word 'pinastri' for a plea to 'be nasty.' Well, you never know.

Whilst you could dismiss this as two eccentric ladies squabbling amid truly breath-taking surroundings, the 104 minute run-time is filled with more interest than that. Events are by turn funny, mesmerising and ultimately strangely saddening, as the need to keep up the charade, as well as the possibility of encroaching age, becomes wearing and upsetting.

A study of love, and what people will do to preserve it, played for the main part as a two-hander between these extraordinary actors, is never overtly erotic: there is no nudity, for example. And yet there is a 'romantic' level of perversion on display, a strained relationship based on perceptions and sexual needs; and through it all, grumpy Lorna (Monica Swinn) is outside sweeping away the leaves and bad memories. You get the feeling she's seen and heard it all before: perfect casting! A fascinating piece. My score is 8 out of 10.

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Devil Hunter

Stomach-eating, bug-eyed jungle killer steals the show!

The first thing that strikes me about this tropical kidnapping romp is the dubbing, which is probably among the worst I have witnessed. Bored sounding actors drawling terrible, broken dialogue (Jack’s (Antonio Mayans) breakdown deserves a special mention here) amidst a myriad of half-hearted sound effects – the flowing of jungle rivers is represented by what sounds like someone agitating a glass of water.

None of this can be blamed on prolific Spanish Director Jess Franco (credited here as Clifford Brown). And yet this remains one of much-derided director’s most derided films. Much as I would like to disagree, it isn’t difficult to see why. The plot is stretched way beyond interest, and no-one involved seems particularly invested - apart, perhaps from starlet Ursula Buchfellner as Laura. Any of Buchfellner’s acting prowess is well and truly squashed by whoever is voicing her – that, and being given very little to do - but her enthusiasm keeps things afloat. Her natural glamour is a bonus too. Also of note, Muriel Montosse, billed here as Victoria Adams, who would make such an impression as the sexy main character in 1983’s ‘Cecilia’, features briefly as the ‘girl on yacht.’

By far the main point of interest here for me involves a kind of sub-plot involving a bug-eyed jungle murderer. I say ‘kind of’ sub-plot, because he doesn’t really have a story, he is just ‘there’ but his involvement grows as the 102 minutes roll along. Naked and with bloodied, raw, oversized eyes, he makes an impressionable figure, and Franco cannot help but feature him in close-up; this only goes to expose how crude the optical effects are, but it is still a powerful look. His appearance is slowly built up throughout, and accompanied by painful wheezing and groaning sounds. For me, this poor lad is the star of the show.

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The Night Child

Effective, but really a pale Exorcist imitation.

One of the things I love about European horror and giallo films is the scenery. To tell the truth, it might well be my only chance to see such exotic foreign locations, especially as they appeared over forty years ago. And here, Director Massimo Dallamano makes sure we get the full benefit of exotic looking vistas in Spoleto, Villa Parisi, Palazzo Chigi and London. It looks stunning.

The cast is terrific also. Leading man Richard Johnson as Michael Williams is charming and reassuring, whilst never drifting into the foppish tendencies of many handsome male actors from this period. Prolific Nicoletta Elmi is Emily Williams; here, at just 11 years old, the talented youngster had already appeared in such films as ‘Who Saw Her Die’ alongside George Lazenby, Mario Bava’s ‘A Bay of Blood’ and ‘Baron Blood’, Dario Argenta’s ‘Deep Red’ and the notorious ‘Flesh for Frankenstein’ amongst many other projects. Her role here is big ask: as ‘the night child’ she has to carry large parts of this story, and without the aid of the make-up, special effects or prosthetics that ensured Linda Blair in ‘The Exorcist’ gave us all nightmares.

And this is very much an imitation of that ground-breaking demonic horror. Williams is a film-maker making a documentary about Satanic deaths, and as he is away working, Emily’s behaviour becomes alarmingly petulant: almost as if she is possessed. Thus, we get regular flashbacks and nightmare sequences. Whereas Regan in ‘The Exorcist’ injures herself with crucifixes, vomits green bile and utters foul profanities, Emily throws a few tantrums (and smokes a cigarette) that are energetically performed but hardly terrifying.

The truth is, this is a rather pale imitation of that earlier film and in any comparisons, comes a distant second, despite all the wonderful scenery and powerful performances. It’s true to say that Emily’s powers become more fearsome as time goes on, and the finale contains a good twist. The accompanying score, by Stelvio Cipriani is also completely bewitching, but unlikely to give anyone the jitters. My score for this is 7 out of 10.

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Alcatraz

Economically told character thriller.

From the prolific stable of Andrew Jones and North Bank Entertainment comes this rare step away from the horror genre. ‘Alcatraz’ is a fairly large story told economically. Whilst occasionally flawed, it works rather well.

While we spend much time in the company of the escapees, we don’t really get to know them because they are pretty much one-note. Not a criticism, but Clarence, for example, is the decent stoical type and remains so, whilst Joe (Patrick O’Donnell) begins as the scowling ‘big man’ who scowls until the very end. So, while there’s no deep psychology going on here, the characters are interesting enough to carry the film.

Instead of dwelling on the physical demands and derring-do of an actual prison escape, Jones’ script deals instead with the relations between the characters (mainly male, with Jones regular Harriet Rees playing Alice, Clarence’s sister), mainly played by talented English actors sporting American accents. Alcatraz interiors were filmed in Brighton, Bristol and San Francisco, whilst there is lots of establishing location filming at the exteriors of Alcatraz prison. My score for this is 7 out of 10.

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Santa Sangre

A effective but acquired taste ...

You may, like me, spend the first half an hour of this film, wondering what exactly you are watching. This bewitching, garishly coloured, strange, grotesque collection of moments and bizarre happenings are presented without build-up, and at first it is difficult to know if a story is being told or this is just one scene of carnival curiosity followed by another.

And yet director and co-writer Alejandro Jodorowsky weaves a spell-binding other-world that bares a passing resemblance to the freakish histrionics of Lon Chaney’s 1927 film ‘The Unknown,’ and even the body horror of ‘The Hands of Orlac (1924)’. The circus performers’ backstreets and carnal houses become curiously beautiful stages thanks to the unexpected use of colour and bombast. So much so that, with moments of genuine erotica mixed with gratuity and horror – although rarely explicit, merely extravagantly suggested – this convincing community becomes an all-encompassing theatre of the absurd.

At slightly over two hours long, ‘Santa Sangre’ is a long time for such ambience to sustain itself, and yet it does. It’s a persuasive grandstand on which to pin the central story, and yet with a myriad of powerful, idiosyncratic performances - including the extraordinary Thelma Tixou, and Adan Jodorowsky and Faviola Elenka Tapia, two spirituous child actors playing younger versions of two main characters – and always majestic directorial flourishes, there is no excuse for the attention to wander.

This won’t be to everyone’s tastes. I’m not even entirely sure it is to mine. It doesn’t become unusual, it is unusual from the outset and doesn’t let up the pace. But it’s difficult not to get swept up in it. Original and never lets up, my score for ‘Santa Sangre’ is 8 out of 10.

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Best non-Toho Godzilla film yet - spoilers.

In 1998, America’s mighty film studios took on the Godzilla mantle from licensors Toho. The release was not the success it was hoped to be, and the critics, as they often do, gave it a hard time. In 2014, Legendry Entertainment made a far better-received version. In 2019 came the sequel, which proves the old adage ‘third time lucky’ to be quite true.

This is a true celebration of audience memories of Godzilla films, whichever ones they may be. Triumphant echoes to the past include purist-pleasing mentions of Godzilla ‘lore’ (if we are to call it that), none more so than vast slabs of music from the original films including, of course, Akira Ifukube’s monumental original theme. Bear McCreary ‘s music sometimes strays into unmemorable bombast, but also has moments of greatness, particularly Ghidorah’s sing-song call to his titanic minions.

I found the human characters – rarely anyone’s reason for seeing such a film – incredibly bland in 2014’s ‘Godzilla’: square-jawed vacuums racing around the carnage trying to save their insignificant family trophies from probable death c/o Big G and his city-snuffing ways. There is an element of that here, particularly towards the end, but the human characters are a lot more real, a lot better acted and therefore much easier to care about. Debonair Charles Dance lends his steely-eyed insidiousness to the much less virtuous Jonah Alan. (If, like me, you wondered what happened to him towards the end, stick around after the credits have rolled.) Sally Hawkins is also very good as the PJ Harvey-esque Dr, Vivienne Graham, and Millie Bobby Brown not only makes sure her character, young Madison, steers clear of the brattish tendencies that sometimes afflicts heroic film juveniles, but that she is also very real and appealing.

And yet the monsters are who we really come to see. And ‘King of the Monsters’ does not disappoint. We see plenty of them, and this time, the camera doesn’t cut away every time a fight breaks out. Ghidorah is one heck of a nasty piece of work, albeit with a nifty, icky way of regenerating on of his three heads if need be. Rodan is great fun, all beak and swooping wings. Mothra is genuinely beautiful, and possesses a sense of ethereality that earlier films often strove for, but didn’t always achieve (there’s even a brief mention of her guiding human twins, although mercifully we’re speared actually seeing them).

As for the main man, the big lad, the star performer, Godzilla – he’s been battered in fights before, but always come back fighting. Here, he requires a little help. Does this undermine him as The King? Not really. His regenerative powers are revealed, but if left to the natural cause of things, the world might have come to an end. So he is given a push (albeit one requiring a massive cost), no more than that. And there is something air-punchingly great about his returns from the brink. Such moments have been great in the past but here, with some extraordinary effects at play and with such a horrible and seemingly unstoppable opponent, it is difficult not to feel elated. Watching this on the big screen with a bunch of strangers, I felt like cheering. And when the sparingly used atomic breath makes an appearance, it’s impossible not to feel elated.

My score for this is 9 out of 10. ‘King of Monsters’ hardly puts a step wrong. We’re not waiting 45 minutes for the first bout of monster action, and after the fights are over, we don’t have tedious minutes of sickly human ‘bonding’ to sit through. Looking through the rolling ends credits, you can understand why it has taken five years to plan and make this meticulous masterpiece. You’d need an atomic heart not to enjoy it.

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Satan's Slave

Obscure cult gloriousness - minor silers follow.

This is a terrific, wintery horror film not dissimilar to a Pete Walker production with, I suspect, slightly more available budget. That said, star Michael Gough agreed to take a pay reduction for his Cushing-like role as Alexander Yorke, Uncle to suddenly orphaned Catherine (Candace Glendenning). This haunted house mystery is steeped in what I really love about British films around this time – beautifully spoken RP, skeleton trees, rolling grounds surrounding a sprawling mansion miles away from anywhere, and some excellent performances from a mainly little-known cast; English countryside so icy you could almost bite it.

Catherine’s bereavement puts her entirely at the mercy of her Uncle, who is only too pleased to be of assistance. And yet such is Gough’s excellent performance that there is clearly much unsavoury depth to his character (if only he’d put this much effort into his role as Arthur Holmwood in Hammer’s 1958 ‘Dracula’; but I digress…). His kindness slowly becomes suffocating, and we are entirely on Catherine’s side.

Cult director Norman J. Warren pulls out all the stops to make this as spooky as possible. Seedy cousin Stephen (Martin Potter) and secretary Frances (Barbara Kellerman – dubbed by Stephanie Beacham) ensure their shadowy characters are as imposing as can be and, although the story is a slow burner, the atmosphere of foggy unease is wonderfully conveyed.

Unsurprisingly, the narrative is laced with sporadic scenes of Satanic cults, ensuring we are aware – as if we weren’t already – that evil forces are behind everything. There are harder and softer-core versions of this; I don’t know which version I saw – somewhere between the two, possibly - but there are a few gloriously bright moments of gore to punctuate the autumnal gloom. There is nudity too, and no dilution of some of the unsavoury relationships between certain characters. An obscure gem, my score is 8 out of 10.

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Prey

‘High in protein and easy prey.’ Minor spoilers.

Directed by the mighty Norman J. Warren, this cut-price sci-fi horror piece involves two young women: softie Jessica (Glory Annen) and her sulky, male-hating lover Josephine (Sally Faulkner). In the midst of a row, they stumble across a man who calls himself Anderson (Barry Stokes). I’m hoping the awkward atmosphere is to blame for the fact that neither of the girls immediately notice that the man is clearly not normal – if I didn’t believe that, then they would appear very foolish, especially Jess, who makes polite conversation while Anders takes every opportunity to display his oddness. Perhaps Jo is blinkered by her own dark secrets …

The music is provided by Ivor Slaney, and has a definite BBC Radiophonic Workshop aura about it, bringing back warm memories of teatime children’s sci-fi series from many years ago. In fact, elements of this could almost be a movie-length edition of ‘The Tomorrow People’, ‘Sky’ or suchlike - apart from attention paid to the girls’ relationship and some of the more overt violence, or the bizarre ritual of dressing Anders up in drag, of course. Strangely, the sight of the bewildered gentleman in dress and make-up stimulates a strange fascination in Jo. It’s all a bit odd, but of course such is Mr J Warren’s effective way of ensuring audience attention doesn’t wander.

The film was shot in ten days, with the cast and crew living in the mansion used as the location. It looks similar to the house in the previous year’s ‘Satan’s Slave/Evil Heritage’, also directed by Warren. Much of the script was written during shooting. The resulting film, I found greatly enjoyable, with some terrifically enthusiastic performances and a wonderfully gory ending, where Anders’ true nature is revealed. My score is 7 out of 10.

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