Monday, April 20, 2015

DRACULA A.D. 1972

   



    Hammer's rather uneven attempt to drag Dracula and the studios patented Gothic trappings kicking and screaming into a 1970's setting has never been held in very high regard even by the most ardent of the studio's fans. Warner after noticing the healthy box office returns for the Count Yorga films approached Hammer regarding a two picture deal that would bring the iconic vampire into a contemporary setting - with the second picture being the even more problematic THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA in 1973 and the series would finish up with the Shaw Brothers collaboration THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES IN 1974 (which I've always liked). Hammer which by this time had begun to see the writing on the wall in regards to a shrinking market for its Gothic horrors probably jumped at the chance to hopefully expand their audience.
    In 1970 after Peter Sasdy's wonderful TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (which for the first time in the series placed Dracula in his literary origins of Victorian England) Hammer followed up with the shoddy SCARS OF DRACULA. Looking to amp up the blood & gore content (unfortunately on what would seem to be laughably small budget), SCARS was a huge letdown after the  atmospheric TASTE THE BLOOD (which is my favorite in the series after the original) and its relative failure at the box office was probably another inducement for Hammer to try something different.




     DRACULA A.D. 1972, while far from the studio's best effort, does have some things to recommend it including the presence of Peter Cushing, heaving bosoms courtesy of Stephanie Beacham and Caroline Monro and of course Christopher Lee. The film was shot by Dick Bush (who also was the cinematographer for TWINS OF EVIL & BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW) and for whatever faults it does have, DRACULA A.D. 1972 is a very handsome looking production. Director Alan Gibson (GOODBYE GEMINI & CRESCENDO) stages some atmospheric sequences and most of the movies problems can most likely be attributed to the script (as with most of Hammer's later day Dracula's, Lee is sorely underused), Hammer's ever shrinking budgets and to Warner's meddling.
     Opening with a marvelous sequence that has Lee and Cushing as Dracula and Van Helsing battling aboard a runaway coach in 1872 England (which oddly places the action 13 years before the 1958 DRACULA's 1885 time frame) whereupon the coach crashes and Dracula is impaled by one of splintered wheels. Before he himself dies Van Helsing jams one of the spokes into Dracula's heart causing him to dissolve away, but not before a minion of Dracula (Christopher Neame from GHOSTBUSTERS II) scoops up the ashes and buries them in a lonely corner of a cemetery. Flash forward 100 years (which is accomplished by a pretty nifty panning shot of the graveyard to a passing jet airliner) to 1972 London and we're introduced to "Johnny Alucard" (a relative of Dracula's minion again played by Neame) and his group of hedonistic young swingers. His friends include Gaynor (future Mick Jagger girlfriend Marsha Hunt), Laura (Caroline Munro THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD & AT THE EARTHS CORE) along with the "good girl" of the gang Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beachum SUPER BITCH & THE NIGHTCOMERS) who happens to be the granddaughter of Abraham Van Helsing (again Cushing - who is the great great grandson of the original Prof. Van Helsing from the film's 1872 prologue).




    The film gets off to a rather rocky start straight off, as whereupon after that terrific opening sequence we flash forward to 1972 and are introduced to Johnny and his friends in the midst of crashing an upper class party, which by chance happens to have the rock group Stoneground (!?) playing there. An early 70's American blues rock band, Stoneground at the time was signed to Warners and there inclusion here in a heavy handed promotional sequence (we're treated to two songs by them) unfortunately kills whatever momentum the period opening prologue had generated. There's also some attempts at humor, all of which tend to cloud the rest of the movie and it never quite recovers.
     Looking for some bigger thrills Johnny talks the group at a deserted church (which happens to be the one where Dracula was buried in the prologue) and by bringing along the ashes his ancestor procured seems to intent on resurrecting the vampire. In one of the films better sequences Laura is chosen as the centerpiece of the ritual and with ominous music being played in the background, she is laid out on an altar table and drenched with blood across her chest (which being Caroline Munro's chest makes it one of the highlights of the film). During the course of the ceremony Laura is killed by Dracula and when her body is later found it brings in the police. Upon his resurrection Dracula enlists the help of Johnny to locate the Van Helsings to exact revenge upon them. For some strange reason the movie has all the female victims of Lee and the by now vampire Johnny Alucard killed outright without turning into vampires, while the male victim does. It's seems a bit odd to have a Hammer vampire movie devoid of female vampires ??




     After realizing Alucard spelled backwards is Dracula (which was by now a pretty tired plot ploy - going all the way back to 1943's SON OF DRACULA) Peter Cushing springs into action, realizing its his grand daughter that's the focus of Dracula's wrath. It's strange to see Cushing as Van Helsing dashing about modern day London, but he's amazing to watch as Cushing seemingly takes it upon himself to carry the movie and brings his usual great bravado and scene stealing mannerisms to his role (this was his first portrayal of Van Helsing since Lee-less sequel BRIDES OF DRACULA from 1960). As usual with the later day Hammer Lee doesn't much screen time as he usually just glowers and intones instructions and/or curses upon people, but he still has a magnificent presence (even when he's not on screen) and although their time here together is brief it's great to see him and Cushing sharing the screen. Except for Dracula's climatic demise DRACULA A.D. 1972 is relatively bloodless and with just the barest hint of nudity as Hammer via Warners was obviously going for GP rating (SCARS was R, while TASTE THE BLOOD was snipped of some nudity for  American play dates to earn a PG).




     Stephanie Beachum had previously appeared in THE NIGHTCOMERS in 1971, a prequel to Jack Clayton's adaption of Henry James Turn of the Screw THE INNOCENTS and the same year was in THE DEVIL"S WIDOW (AKA TAM LIN). Later she was in SUPER BITCH 1973 (AKA MAFIA JUNCTION), INSEMINOID 1981 (AKA HORROR PLANET), two films for Pete Walker - THE CONFESSIONAL (1973) & SCHIZO (1976) and in 1973 was in the underrated Amicus Gothic chiller AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS !  To non-genre fans, she's probably most famous for her recurring role in T.V.'s THE COLBYS and DYNASTY in the 1980's.
     Caroline Munro was a model/cover girl and was the only actress ever signed to a contract by Hammer Studios. She turned down offers from Playboy and always refused to do nudity in any of her roles (which although disappointing, I always admired her for) which caused her to lose out roles in Hammer's DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE (1971) and their unrealized VAMPERILLA project. Also for Hammer she appeared in the criminally underrated CAPTAIN KRONOS - VAMPIRE HUNTER from 1974.












Monday, April 13, 2015

STUNT ROCK 1978


"DEATH WISH AT 120 DECIBELS !!"



     The recipient of one of the most superbly edited & adrenaline pumping trailers in the history of film (which can be seen here) this massively entertaining combination of car chases, explosions, death defying stunt work, & magic along with 70's theatrical metal music all worked into the plot (complete with an onstage battling wizard & devil) has been slowly gaining a cult following over the years as a result of the trailer showing up on various compilations. Held together by the barest thread of a plot (which in large part helps it), STUNT ROCK was described by director Brian Trenchard-Smith (THE MAN FROM HONG KONG & THE SIEGE OF FIREBASE GLORIA) as a homage to 1970's stuntmen and its basic premise can probably be looked at as simply an attempted star making vehicle for famed Australian stuntman Grant Page (MAD MAX). Frustratingly hard to see through the years (I remember it showing up occasionally at midnight shows), it was issued by Code Red on DVD a few years back.




     Because of a rushed production schedule and producer meddling, Trenchard- Smith was dismissive of it through the years and refereed to it as the "the worst film I ever made". However, in recent times he's turned around quite a bit on it with all these aspects playing out in the extras on the DVD special features. Looking back at it today, it's a movie viewing experience that  you can't help but enjoy and is a fascinating (albeit heavily fictionalized) portrait of pre CGI movie making
   Playing himself, Page travels to Los Angeles to help out on the stunt work for a fictional American TV series titled Undercover Girl (which because of a producers insistence stars Dutch actress Monique van de Ven - again playing herself) and along the way hooks up with Lois, a reporter (played by Trenchard-Smith's wife Margaret Gerard) and soon a romance develops. Page also meets up with his "cousin" Curtis Hyde who is a member of the theatrical rock group Sorcery. Hyde pays the part of the "Prince of Darkness" who does battle with "King of the Wizards" (played by Paul Haynes) during Sorcery's stage show (portions of which are integrated into the plot). Becoming friends with the band, Page agrees to help them out by staging some stunts onstage featuring himself as Sorcery is getting ready to do "three nights at the Fourm" (!).




    The film's plot line basically has Page relating stories of his past stunts to reporter Lois (shown as flashbacks from his previous movies), along with his working on the TV show and doing things such escaping from a hospital after an injury by climbing down the hospital's outside wall, chin-ups on the Hollywood sign and repelling across two buildings in order to talk to Lois - all interspersed with the periodic concert & rehearsal footage of Sorcery. Some of the flashback footage Trenchard-Smith had used earlier in his previous stunt filled opus DEATH CHEATERS from 1976, along with some of the truly wince inducing crash footage lifted from H.B. Halicki's car chase classic GONE IN 60 SECONDS from 1974. Among some of the highlights are Page's blazing high fall in MAD DOG MORGAN that resulted in him suffering burns over a majority of his body (but returning to work in a matter of days) and some truly spectacular automobile and high fall stunts.



     Many bands were considered and approached with Van Halen reputedly being in the running for a time and Foreigner being the final choice until touring commitments prompted them to dropout. Faced with fast looming start date Trenchard-Smith signed Sorcery after a week long search (and later described them as "the type of band you'd find if you had only a week"). Although their stage show does have low budget Dungeon & Dragons type cheesiness about it, their theatrical show does add to the WTF atmosphere of the film and most likely helps with films cult reputation.
     As a leading man Page's acting chops are a bit flat, but he does have an undeniable charisma about him and as he's not required to do a whole lot other then just play himself (along with most of the cast) plus his performance does fit in with the premise of the movie perfectly. Page was the go to stunt guy for Australian cinema starting in mid 70's (his resume reads like a checklist of Ozploiatation cinema) and he continues to serve as a stunt coordinator up the the present day. His work on MAD MAX, including the car blasting through a trailer and the climatic motorcycle pileups are still awe inspiring to this day.
   The plot does a drag a bit whenever the characters actually have to interact, as its best when it's just left to the stunt and/or concert footage and is an almost perfect example of "not letting the plot to get in way of the story"









Friday, March 13, 2015

Margaret Markov & THE JIMMY STEWART SHOW 1971

Another Day, Another Scholar
Original Air Date Oct. 17 1971


Filipino exploitation babe Margaret Markov attempts to seduce Jimmy Stewart !!


      A few months before heading off to the Philippines to film New World's THE HOT BOX (and later BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA) here's the very beautiful Margaret Markov making an appearance in Jimmy Stewart's short lived early 70's TV series, which was titled (aptly enough) THE JIMMY STEWART SHOW. Playing Prof. James Howard, a science teacher at a small college, Stewart's small screen debut was highly publicized but untimely failed to connect with viewers only running for one season from 1971-72. Watching the series today on Warner Archives Streaming (I have vague recollections of the show as a child) it seems wanting to juggle back and forth between comedy and drama with Stewart in full "aw shucks..." mode as he gently tries to confront some of the then contemporary social issues of the day. Most of the comedy side of things is centered around his home life with Julie Adams (THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) playing the wife along with a couple of precocious kids and M. Emmett Walsh as a fellow professor.




   Before she would shower down Pam Grier and blast her way through the sweaty Filipino jungles with  machine guns & machetes, Markov here plays Joyce Gibbs -  a highly flirtatious student who seemingly will go to any lengths not to pass Prof. Howard's class, but to simply be allowed to enroll in it (!). Wearing a variety of low cut dresses along with mini-skirts & leopard-skinned hot pants she seems bound and determined to enjoy the benefits of the professor's folksy science musings, as at one point she even starts to strip down in his office (after offering him a case of beer !). The script makes it plainly obvious that Markov's end game plan is to not only flirt with the slightly befuddled Stewart, but to untimely engage in some office couch "special tutoring"



   Born in 1948 in Stockton Calif., the blonde statuesque Markov appeared in Jack Starret's RUN ANGEL RUN in 1969 and in 1971 would appear in Roger Vadim's  black comedy PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW. Traveling to the Philippines in 1972 she was in the THE HOT BOX and in 1973 would appear as a revolutionary on the run with Pam Grier in the all time classic BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA ("Chicks in Chains...On The Run From A Prison Hell !"). In 1974 Roger Corman would transplant the women in prison thing to Ancient Rome with the result being THE ARENA that once again teamed Margaret with Pam Grier as female gladiators that are overseen by Rosalba Neri. Former actor Mark Damon (THE DEVIL'S WEDDING NIGHT) was producer on THE ARENA and he and Margaret were later married (and remain so to this day).