Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A review of Haunted, a spooky ghostly tale

Review by Doug Gibson

Haunted, 1995, British, color, 108 minutes, Zoetrope Films. Directed by Lewis Gilbert. Based on a novel by James Herbert. Starring Aidan Quinn as David Ash, Kate Beckinsale as Christina Mariell, Anthony Andrews as Robert Mariell, John Gielgud as Dr. Doyle, Alex Lowe as Simon Mariell, Victoria Shalet as Juliet Ash and Anna Massey as Nanny Tess Webb. Schlock-Meter rating: Nine stars out of 10.

Haunted is a very spooky, fun ghost story with twists and turns that will leave most viewers guessing. It's based on a popular novel by British author James Herbert, who is as famous in Britain as Stephen King is in America. Here's the plot: Famed psychologist David Ash (Quinn) enjoys debunking mediums and rumors of ghosts. This may be because Ash refuses to accept that many years earlier, he saw a manifestation of his dead twin sister after she drowned in an accident. Seeking material for a book, he amuses himself by accepting an invitation from a frightened elderly woman (Massey) to kick out some ghosts who are in her home, which is a huge mansion near the white cliffs of Dover. As soon as Ash arrives he meets three adult siblings (Andrews, Beckinsale and Lowe). They're an odd but charming trio, oftentimes acting more like children. Nevertheless, Ash begins to feel a strong attraction for the sister, Christina Mariell, played by future star Kate Beckinsale.

There's no gore in this film, but it's as spooky as The Others and nearly as terrifying as the classic The Haunted. As time passes, Ash witnesses several supernatural encounters that force him to revise his earlier theories. He appears to be no help to his poor client (Massey), who lives in terror within the house. Although Ash's romance with the beautiful Christina intensifies, the brothers become more cold, and Ash also witnesses several strong hints of incest between Christina and the oldest brother Robert (Andrews). The home also appears isolated at times, except for occasional visits from a kindly country doctor (Gielgud) in a marvelous small role.

It would be a crime to give away the ending in this review, but rest assured it packs a powerful punch. To survive, Ash must reach deep back into the past of his life and seek help from someone he's trying to forget about. Quinn gives a marvelous performance as he tries to deal with a horror he's always scorned. Beckinsale radiates sensuality (note to her fans, the nude scenes are with a double). Finally, Massey literally looks like an old woman who has been scared so badly that she has become a walking corpse, just waiting to die. By all means, buy it or rent it, and make sure you watch it after dark. A second viewing provides fun in counting plot clues missed the first time.

Friday, April 10, 2009

All about "The Vampire's Ghost"

By Doug Gibson

This is an interesting 1945 vampire tale, only 59 minutes, from Republic Pictures. It's semi-obscure and few retailers carry it (I've been waiting years to catch it on Turner Classic Movies) but it's just interesting enough to have a chapter in McFarland's "Son of Guilty Pleasures of the Horror Film" and Frank Dello Stritto gives it a couple of pages in his collection of essays "A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore."

Plot involves saloonkeeper Webb Fallon, a haggard-looking white man with impeccable manners, who runs a small saloon in an African port. There have been vampire attacks on the natives, and they are getting restless. They speak the language of drums, and the drums spell Fallon (John Abbott) as their chief suspect.

They are right of course. Fallon is a vampire, centuries old and very tired. He bemoans his fate but also accepts it with chilling simplicity. When he sets his sights on the pretty fiance of a young Englishman, it looks as if nothing can stop him.

What makes The Vampire's Ghost so interesting is that it deviates from the standard vampire plot made famous by Bela Lugosi. Vampire Fallon can move around in the light and sleeps in a bed with native soil from his grave by the bed.

As mentioned, he's sympathetic early but Webb is able to give his vampire a sort of polite heartlessness that underscores the undead sociopath that lies beneath his gentleman English exterior. In one scene, Fallon ruthlessly and quickly dispatches a boat captain and saloon dancer who have cheated him at cards. He also plays with the boyfriend (Charles Grodin) who knows that Fallon wants his fiance (Peggy Stewart). Fallon the vampire seems detached, as if he is repeating a game he has played many times before. He relies on sapping the inner strength of his potential victims. The languid, remote location of his life (Africa) underscores his soft deadly power.

If you can find this film, it's worth a buy, particularly if you enjoy the changing genres of vampire film. Surprisingly, in its own quiet way, The Vampire's Ghost predates Twilight. It's an example of well a fiilm can be made on a tiny budget. This would be an excellent addition to UEN's Sci-Fi Friday roster.

Notes: The Vampires Ghost was written by Leigh Brackett, who wrote Star Wars 5: The Empire Strikes Back. Roy Barcroft, who played the doomed boat captain, later played a sheriff in the 60s cult film Billy the Kid versus Dracula. The Vampire's Ghost, directed by Lesley Selander, was released on May 21, 1945. In the early 1970s, it played on the TV movie show Creature Features paired with House of Frankenstein. Another good blog review: