Film Reviews by NP

Welcome to NP's film reviews page. NP has written 686 reviews and rated 786 films.

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House of Good and Evil

Effective horror marred by sound issues ...

(Edit) 06/12/2019

You know how in horror films there comes a point where everyone's phone stops working, or the electricity goes down, or someone discovers a mysterious locked door? Well, all that business is covered and out of the way in the first ten minutes of 'House of Good and Evil', so you know when unthinkable things happen, the young couple are entirely on their own. Half of the isolated new home Chris (Christian Oliver) and Maggie (Rachel Marie Lewis) move into is rented by a quiet elderly couple.

David Mun directs this atmospherically, but there are some sound issues. Chris and Maggie's whispered sweet nothings are barely audible much of the time, which is irritating but a common problem with low budget projects such as this. (At one point, elderly Mrs Anderson is talking with Maggie and complains her hearing aid needs new batteries - even she wants her to speak up!)

The couple have recently suffered a bereavement which has left Maggie emotionally unstable, so practically speaking, is it kind to buy such a remote house with no amenities, when Chris is required to leave his wife alone while he goes to work?

'House of Good and Evil' is mostly very enjoyable although too long. My biggest complaint remains the sound issues, which causes the viewer giving up trying to follow what is being said, even at moments of great tension. Cracking twist at the end though. My score is 6 out of 10.

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The Black Raven

Zucco owns this routine quickie!

(Edit) 06/12/2019

This is best described as a routine quickie notable mainly (to me) for the inclusion of top-billed George Zucco as 'TYhe Black Raven' himself, Amos Bradford, and future Frankenstein Monster Glenn Strange as, er, Andy.

With distant similarities to moments from 1932's classic 'The Old Dark House', this involves the comparatively mundane subject of murder and stolen money. The characters are all pretty thinly sketched, and the acting - apart from Zucco who is his usual implacable self - is suitably unenthusiastic. Prolific Wanda McKay as Lee Winfield, the token female, seems particularly uninterested. Strange is capable but his role is pretty thankless. Flash Gordon's arch foe Ming actor Charles Middleton plays the Sherriff.

There's a good, isolated atmosphere under the sheets of rain, however, albeit on a small budget. Sadly the story isn't really engaging enough to make much of this and at 64 minutes length, has no real interest in anything other than the functional. My score is 5 out of 10.

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Suspiria

Some impressive set-pieces, but ... (spoilers)

(Edit) 06/12/2019

Strange isn’t it, that with all the advantages and advancements of make-up special effects, when it comes to disguising a female as a male, the human voice is what breaks the illusion. The male/female character in this updated, reimagined version of ‘Suspiria’ is no more convincing than dear old Elspeth Dudgeon as Sir Roderick Femm in ‘The Old Dark House’ nearly ninety years earlier.

It reminded me in some of its many set-pieces, of the Japanese horrors that proved popular in the early 2000s, especially ‘Audition’ (unsurprising, really, given both films’ focus on dance classes). Some of the Mephistophelian set-pieces full of writhing bodies in the finale are akin to many scenes depicting hell in silent Hollywood films. These images, together with the rich and evocative cinematography of Sayombhu Mukdeeprom and directorship of Luca Guadagnino create some memorable scenes.

However, the moments in between are sadly dull – and there are many of them: there is absolutely no reason why this film has to be 2 hours and 32 minutes long. There is no reason why this story needs so much time to be told. And that proves to be ‘Suspiria’s’ undoing. It boasts a truly wonderful cast, looks stunning and has some eventful moments, but contains so much that is a chore to sit through, and scenes that contain little to justify themselves. I’m not even sure why such vast swathes of the narrative have to be spoken in (often un-subtitled) German, other than to authenticate the setting, albeit inconsistently.

I like slow burning films. I like films that look as impressive and European as this. I like stories that give the impression that they are written by people far cleverer than me. But this is far too much of all those ingredients without any great pay-off. It is a film that loves itself far more than the audience is given reason to. Watching it, I almost felt like a gooseberry at a mutual admiration party. This all sounds harsher than I want it to, but I don’t feel that this new interpretation of ‘Suspiria’, which has received widespread acclaim and therefore deserves to be palatable to a large general audience, has to be such a personal, un-inclusive one. My score is 5 out of 10.

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The Banana Splits Movie

Flipping like a pancake, popping like a cork (mild spoilers ) ...

(Edit) 06/12/2019

Updating children’s favourites The Banana Splits from their late 1960s television show, into rampaging robotic killers, could have gone either way. As it is, I had a great 86 minutes with this, although the omission of the ‘Banana Vac’ character from the original (a truly creepy moose-head that hangs over the doorway with light-bulbs either side of his head) is a missed opportunity. He was the most frightening one of all!

The idea of making Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper and Snorky into robots is a development I was in two minds about. Seeing them move in stilted ‘robotic’ ways looks awkward and unconvincing (I can’t believe I’m reprimanding a Banana Split for being unconvincing – and that’s the beauty of this; it’s almost critique-proof, so bizarre is the premise), but seeing them in half shadow, with half their faces ripped off, revealing a bright red robotic eye is the stuff true childhood nightmares are made of.

The balance is rather good. Lines like, “Tear those fuzzy b******s apart,” and “We’re about to go on-air, and I’m a Split short,” are laugh-out-loud funny, and some of the adult human characters are exaggerated to ridiculous lengths so their flaws and stupidity is more cartoon-like than the Splits themselves, but – and this surely can’t be a spoiler – kills occur, and when they do, they are played straight and treated seriously. And gruesomely. But because the characters are so extreme (some less pleasantly than others), you don’t feel too guilty about cheering when they are dispatched. The juveniles are appealing, which doesn’t always happen. Some of the grown-ups are intentionally irritating – but not for long.

The pacing sometimes flags, but when the characters are on screen – especially when they are committing atrocities in front of a live studio audience of screaming children – it’s difficult to look away. Great fun. 8 out of 10.

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Dracula

Bloodless but enjoyable.

(Edit) 23/11/2019

There have been so many versions and updates of this classic horror story that it is impossible not to ponder things like, how does Patrick Bergin’s version of the Count compare with that of Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi or, bless us all, Zandor Vorkov? He’s very good, actually, aided by some impressive ageing/anti-ageing make-up and plenty of directorial build-ups.

This two-part television movie takes full advantage of its beautiful Budapest locations by presenting a world that is timeless, in the sense that we have flash cars and mobile phones, but also horse-drawn carriages and candelabras. Rather than the production existing in any kind of vacuum, it instead inhabits an exotic ageless environment which aids the story nicely. There are many moments taken from the book, but fitted into an updated timeline. The various CGI effects are mainly very decent, with a few over-ambitious misfires.

Not everything is great. This is a faithful but bloodless adaption and, while spectacular, it is not remotely frightening – although Director (and co-writer) Roger Young’s ambition to create an epic, cinematic version of the famous story is laudable. I felt that the climax was very abrupt (nice twist at the end though).

The acting is terrific throughout, with Giancarlo Giannini is a rather under-used Van Helsing-like Dr. Enrico Valenzi and Muriel Baumeister as Lucy of particular note. My score is 7 out of 10.

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The Skull

A lesser Amicus offering ...

(Edit) 23/11/2019

Robert Bloch’s short story is given the Amicus treatment in one of their early horror offerings. They’re probably better known for the anthology films that marked them out from stablemates Hammer, and you might be forgiven for wishing this was a shorter chapter alongside other stories. Certainly, I felt that way.

Milton Subotsky’s script adaption apparently ran somewhat short of the required running time, so it fell to veteran Director Freddie Francis to fill time be panning shots across rooms and padding out further scenes in order to reach 83 minutes. Once you know this, it is easier to forgive the leaden pace, even at dramatic moments, and perhaps find yourself more sympathetic to the usually excellent Peter Cushing, whose climactic moments go on for far too long.

Cushing shares the credits with Christopher Lee, who isn’t featured much, and Michael Gough, who is featured even less. Also in the impressive cast are Patrick Wymark, Patrick Magee, Peter Woodthorpe and George Colouris – all terrific actors, and all deserving more screen time.

The skull of the title is given the full horror treatment by Francis – hallucinogenic lighting effects and even some impressive ‘floating’ scenes. The power it exudes over the characters is well conveyed, and yet the film ultimately falls a little short of its contemporaries and remains, for me at least, a lesser Amicus offering. My score is 5 out of 10.

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Abandoned Dead

Eerie low budget project ...

(Edit) 23/11/2019

I rather enjoyed this independent film concerning an over-worked Security Guard’s night spent in an inner-city medical clinic. Rachel, very well played by Sarah Nicklin, has an aversion to darkness (and therefore the night), so her enforced nightshift already sets her nerves on edge.

Director and writer Robert Adams, ubiquitous behind the scenes, supplies a very effective, minimalist electronic music score which adds greatly to the low-key atmosphere of murky horror.

I like this because it attempts something a little different and for the most part succeeds. While the idea of a young woman spending the night in a creepy building (seemingly) alone isn’t exactly new, this is a story atmospherically told, and not one that relies on ‘jump scares’, which has become a rather monotonous staple of many modern films. My score is 7 out of 10.

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Woyzeck

Bleak and compelling ...

(Edit) 23/11/2019

Made the same year as the peerless ‘Nosferatu the Vampyre’, ‘Woyzeck’ again brings together the mighty partnership of Klaus Kinski and Director Werner Herzog. Whereas Kinski’s portrayal of the vampire remains a highpoint of understated power, here his intensity hits overdrive and crosses the blurred line between insanity and over-acting.

The story is a deceptively simple one. Woyzeck is a soldier who is forced to take menial jobs and perform degrading experiments in order to feed his family. This leads to his mental breakdown, which results in a shocking act at the film’s climax. As he loses his mind, you can believe in him totally, but that is partly because his frantic movements and extreme facial expressions indicate the grip of his senses is fragile to begin with. In true Herzog style, the film drinks up the main character’s flaws and falls from (lowly) grace without spectacle or glamour.

Although the relationship between director and leading man was always fractious, co-star Eva Mattes as Marie has always spoken fondly of Kinski and their time working together.

The film is typically bleak but compelling. My score is 7 out of 10.

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The House on Sorority Row

Middling Eighties chiller ...

(Edit) 14/11/2019

The 1970s begun with an unprecedented explosion of horror films from around the world. Many of them, especially the European offerings, were defined by the decade. It is difficult, for example, to imagine a really successful giallo film without collars and flares and male heroes every bit as manicured as the females. By the time of the 1980s, the horror genre had become somewhat stale, and it wasn’t until the rise of the slasher films – such as this – that the decade found its own decade-defining horror staple. To my mind – and I realise this is not a popular view – the likes of Freddy, Jason and Michael soon became weighed down by the more outlandish nature of their many sequels, and even before it had properly began, the slasher genre had become cartoon-like in its menace. Whereas the 70s had ridiculous coiffeurs and questionable dress sense, the 80s became, in retrospect, even worse. Sadly, shoulder pads, bubble perms and polished oversized blazers were more Joan Jett than Caroline Munro. These statements created their own ‘look’ that never leant itself well to horror.

This is all just my point of view, of course, but the style of the day is what robs ‘The House on Sorority Row’ of much of its punch. The idea is a good one – an accidental apparent death leads to a bloody killing spree - but the production, the filming techniques and the overall sheen is very much that of an episode of Dynasty or Falcon Crest (two popular American soaps of the time). This makes it surprising, and jarring, when an expletive is used, or a particularly gory moment occurs.

This isn’t to say there aren’t creepy moments. And the twist at the end is very satisfying, albeit rather ‘Scooby Doo’ in nature. Director and writer Mark Rosman keeps things moving nicely. It soon becomes clear, though, with the pleasant, wholesome opening theme and silly, giggly nature of the sorority sisters that this production isn’t going to produce much that is unexpected. My score s 5 out of 10.

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Death Smiles on a Murderer

A love letter to Edgar Allan Poe - mild spoilers.

(Edit) 13/11/2019

Through the rolling, autumnal, Hammer-esque woodlands, an accident with a horse and carriage throws Greta (Ewa Aulin) into the care of Eva (Angela Bo) and Walter (Sergio Doria). The couple are so good natured, it seems increasingly apparent something other than being cordial is on their agenda. Meanwhile, Klaus Kinski at his most urbane and creepiness, plays Dr. Sturges, who has dreams of bringing the dead back to life. In a move typical of the unpredictability of this film, his character seems set to be a main player, yet isn’t around as long as we expect. Luciano Rossi, a familiar face to giallo fans, here plays Franz, who we first see grimly lamenting the death of his sister.

This love-letter to Edgar Allan Poe is a restrained and well directed offering from exploitation guru Joe D'Amato (credited as Aristide Massaccesi). I say restrained not because it lacks in atmosphere – far from it – but is far more stylish and sophisticated than he is often given credit for.

There are some terrific performances here (Aulin is excellent throughout, striking a balance between cute-as-a-button and terrifying.) but for me, the standout contribution comes from Berto Pisano and his stunning incidental music. His score is by turns echoic, dreamlike, romantic and sinister and ultimately one of the best giallo soundtracks I have heard. Stunning. The balance between music and the sumptuous locations is irresistible.

The only problem I have with this is the way the story is told. It all seems to cohere, but is choppy in its set-pieces which makes the narrative somewhat murky: at times it is difficult to know quite what is going on. As Dr. von Ravensbrück (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) ruminates, “Something just doesn’t add up”. It might well be that this could be quite deliberate, adding to D’Amato’s richly filmed dreamy atmosphere.

There are echoes of Mary Shelley and Edgar Allen Poe, but the results are really quite unique. I thoroughly enjoyed this. It should be more widely known. 8 out of 10.

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The Night Visitor

Chilly and atmospheric!

(Edit) 13/11/2019

If you enjoy pacey, fast-moving horror stories, then I would suggest that ‘The Night Visitor’ will not entertain you in any way. I am fan of slow-burning chillers, and the crawling pace even made me wish the story would hurry up a little. There are times when watching this seems to last longer than the 105 minute running time.

But I’d advise you to stick with it.

It is a pleasure to see such legendary veteran faces as Trevor Howard, Rupert Davies, Andrew Keir, Gretchen Franklin and Max Von Sydow, and they don’t so much liven things up here as lend their weight to the grim surroundings and bleak locations, all beautifully filmed by Laslo Benedek.

There’s also a darkly playful twist at the end, which follows a series of other twists that will have you smiling wryly.

Per Oscarsson and Liv Ullman (as Anton and Ester Jenks respectively) also turn in wonderfully measured performances. Such fascinating characters are what carries the narrative here, and the film is as watchable as it is because of them. There is similarity to the works of Ingmar Bergman here, not least because two of his ‘muses’ are featured here. The attention to detail, the methodical story structure, and the stifling bleakness, are all representative of his style.

I ended up enjoying this very much. It is easy to become entranced by the frozen surroundings, the cold and unfriendly conditions, the austere buildings. If you allow yourself to fall under their spell, the leisurely pacing ceases to become a problem. My score would be a chilly 7 out of 10.

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The Devil's Kiss

Atmospheric Eurocine offering (mild spoilers) ...

(Edit) 13/11/2019

This is a lesser Eurocine low budget horror effort from 1976. While it lacks a well-known name, or at least someone with a formidable screen presence (where’s Rosalba Neri or Edwige Fenech when you need them?), it is worth a watch.

Familiar face Olivier Mathot plays Professor Gruber who, for a long time, seems to be playing an almost non-speaking part. When he starts talking though, he only falters when the rigours of a progressive disease grip him. His companion Claire (Sylvia Solar) accompanies him to the vaults of the magnificently gothic Haussemont Castle where they conduct some particularly grim experiments. Claire also has her own agenda …

Amid the soup of séances, demon worship, nudity, and a reanimated corpse, there’s a surprising lack of suspense or tension. It’s a shame, because some effort has been made to create a convincingly Euro-horror atmosphere.

Loretta (Evelyne Scott), the most sympathetic character, plays an increasingly important role in this, and emerges as my favourite character. The bald zombie lad (Jack Rocha) is quite effective, but by the third time he rises menacingly from the lab slab, you’ve seen everything he has to offer.

Never within throwing distance of any kind of greatness then, this nevertheless has a terrific ambience. My score is 5 out of 10.

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Eyes Without a Face

Les yeux sans visage/Eyes Without a Face

(Edit) Updated 17/10/2019

What an incredible experience this is. A story that deals with such revulsion and bleak desperation emerges as a haunting thing of beauty. This is largely due to the performance of Edith Scob as the gracefully tragic Christiane, whose face is destroyed in a car crash caused by her father. She is condemned to flit through the prison her family home has become, equally imprisoned by the mask she wears to hide her ravaged features. The mask itself is simplicity itself, yet almost appears to emote at times – it is quite incredible how lifelike it can be in some scenes, and coldly sinister in others.

The music is a major factor in this film’s feelings of unease. Some scenes – such as Christiane visiting the latest ‘victim’ strapped down in her father’s surgery – are accompanied by nothing except the howls of the many guard-dogs caged outside. Other scenes, including the story’s opening, are scored with a deceptively jolly carnival suite. This deeply inappropriate music could rob the film of any horror atmospherics, instead it enhances the feeling of perverse unease.

Filmed with slow deliberation, fitting for a story involving the intricacies of surgery, the style is reminiscent of other films of the time, notably Hitchcock’s Psycho (another major horror contribution from 1960). It also brings to mind the more recent horror shocker The Human Centipede, which caused a similar reaction in cinemas in 2009.

Two scenes stand out as being remarkably, repulsively powerful. One is the unflinching sequence involving the removal of a human face, and other is the gruesome attack on Christiane’s father, Doctor Genessier (Pierre Brasseur), by the dogs – ironically rendering his face to pulp too.

As for Christiance’s fate – who knows? She frees the dogs, and drifts off into the night like a ghostly apparition, framed by the flitting of the pet doves she has also freed. We can only imagine what becomes of her – throughout, she has longed for death, sickened by her father’s attempts to save her face, so her future is bleak. We will have to make up our minds.

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The Manson Family Massacre

A unique take on Manson's legacy ...

(Edit) 28/09/2019

Andrew Jones’ prolific North Bank Entertainment here features the notorious Charles Manson (an effective Ciaron Davies) and a young, ex-drug-addict singer/songwriter Margot Lavigne (Brendee Green) who decides to move into 10050 Cielo Drive to record her new album. This is, of course, the address where the murders were committed in 1969, 23 years before Lavigne’s story takes place.

The story is an interesting fusion of fact and fiction and demonstrates once more Jones’ skill at telling an intimate tale in an economic but powerful manner. In some ways this might be his most polished film yet; certainly there are many interesting directorial flourishes used to demonstrate Lavigne’s state of mind at some stages. Although the interiors seem to be the same as those visited in some of his other projects (‘The Utah Cabin Murders’ most recently), there are plenty of aerial shots and panoramic views of Cielo Drive, Spahn Ranch and Loss Angeles to convince us this isn’t really produced in Wales, UK! It does this fairly convincingly, although some of the accents are less successful.

Brendee Green is excellent in the central role as the troubled singer, as is Ciaron Davies as Charles Manson. Davies improvised many of his lines, with only the over-use of ‘mother-f******’ as a singular term of abuse suffering from a certain repetition. These performances make up for those less-polished efforts in lesser roles, although it is great to see Jones regular Lee Bane as Gary Hinman and Lee Mark Jones as hilarious TJ, who has a brief meeting with Lavigne before rushing off for ‘a wazz’.

There’s lots going on here. But for the most part, we know who is who and what is what, although the flashbacks might have been more clearly sign-posted. This is an interesting and unique take on the Manson story, and leads us to believe his influence might never come to an end. My score is 7 out of 10.

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The Satanic Rites of Dracula

Christopher Lee's last Hammer Dracula

(Edit) Updated 01/10/2019
Spoiler Alert

At the time of writing, Sir Christopher Lee has recently passed away at the age of 93.

This is the final film he made for Hammer as Dracula, the role that brought him to the attention of so many. Derided by many over the years, not least by its leading actor, and released at a time when interest in Hammer productions had waned considerably, this once more reunited Lee with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing.

This was one of the films horror films I ever saw, and I am happy to say I loved it then (when it was shown on television in the late 70s) and I love it now. This is the second time Hammer made a picture featuring Dracula in the modern day, and this time they got it absolutely right. The Count had been secretly recruiting people to his cult for a while by the time the story starts, so he is already in a position of power. Living as the reclusive DD Denham, he is very rarely known to leave his tower-block office empire. What better place for a modern day vampire to exist, hiding in plain sight?

Van Helsing (and daughter Jessica, now played by Joanna Lumley) is brought in by the police when it appears that Denham doesn’t show up in photographs, suggesting something sinister. At first Van Helsing is treated with scepticism, but this changes when it appears The Count, sick of his undead unlife, is planning to sweep a plague across all of the Earth.

I love that anyone who comes in to contact with Count’s plan dies (Freddie Jones’ Professor Keeley is the most memorable); I love that he doesn’t dirty his hands with the mundanities of his mission, rather leaving all that to the various political members of his cult. I love that an effort has actually been made to integrate Dracula into society – even when he is not in the story, he directly influences everything that happens. Equally, his victims are confined to Pelham House, which is not a shambling church or sprawling castle. His seduction/attack on Valerie Van Ost’s Jane takes place in a seedy backroom prison, lit only by a swinging bulb. Into that scene Dracula enters, backlit and surrounded by mist, and his impressive frame lights up the dilapidated chamber and Alan Gibson’s fine direction encourages the allurement to be an almost hallucinatory experience.

The ending, and Dracula’s final despatch, has also been slated by ‘fans’, but again, I like it. No elaborate theatrics (that is left to Michael Cole’s Inspector Murray’s spectacular rescue of Jessica), just two deadly, veteran rivals, slugging it out alone. The hawthorn bush is added to the list of ‘all things deadly to a vampire’ (it provided Christ with His crown of thorns after all), and that together with a stake through the heart and Hammer’s Dracula is gone for good. This final, and significant film, is the only one of the series – and possibly Lee’s only picture – that doesn’t currently enjoy an official DVD release. There are low quality efforts available, but this surely deserves a release more worthy, allowing more people to re-value it.

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