Friday night's lineup began with "Brides of Dracula", Hammer's 1960 sequel to their original 1958 "Dracula" starring Christopher Lee (known in the US as "Horror of Dracula"). "Brides of Dracula" doesn't have Christopher Lee in it, as a voiceover narration reassures us that Count Dracula is indeed dead. However, Cushing is back as Van Helsing, and this time he investigates another outbreak of vampirism in Transylvania, propagated this time by a certain Baron Meinster (David Peel). As the film opens, Meinster is being kept chained in his castle by his mother (Martita Hunt), who is in the habit of bringing young girls to the castle so that they may be his victim. This time, though, Meinster convinces the girl to unchain him, and he's on the loose once more. Cushing is great as usual in this, only the second time he ever played Van Helsing, and the story isn't bad at all. It's easy to see why they brought Drac back for the next one though, as Christopher Lee's presence is sorely lacking.
1969's "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" is another one I've missed all these years, and it's one of the stronger Frankenstein entries I've seen yet. Cushing's Dr. Frankenstein returns yet again to continue his experiments, which always seem to change with each movie. In the first he pieced together a body from various parts and brought it to life. In "Frankenstein Created Woman", he had a method of trapping a person's soul and implanting it into another body. Now in "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed", he is working on brain transplant techniques, with a colleague that somehow we've never heard about in all the other films. His colleague, Dr. Brandt, is in an insane asylum, which leads Frankenstein to break him out and transplant his brain in order to cure his insanity. This was one of the more disturbing Hammer "Frankenstein" films I've seen, as the actors were all very good and mostly convincing. The 'creature', which is of course Dr. Brandt's brain in another man's body, is compelling because once his brain has been transplanted he's treated like a monster, even though he's perfectly rational and otherwise normal. It's a gruesome idea but also really scary on an existential level--is everything we are contained in our brains? Is that where "we" live? Would we still feel the same if we were in another body? Hammer's Frankenstein movies are always bleak and gory, but they sometimes poke your brain a little, too.
1972's "Fear in the Night" was another film I was completely unfamiliar with. One of the weirder Hammer films, this one was about Peggy (Judy Geeson), a young woman recovering from a nervous breakdown who meets a man named Robert (Ralph Bates) and marries him. Before she can leave to move in with him, she is attacked in her apartment by a man with a prosthetic arm who tries to strangle her. After she recovers from that incident, she moves in with her new husband at the remote boys school where he serves as an instructor. She quickly discovers something eerie is going on, since there don't seem to be any students. Cushing is the mysterious headmaster who happens to have a prosthetic arm, and soon after she arrives at the school, she is once again attacked by the mysterious figure. Joan Collins also appears as Cushing's icy wife, and now you can probably see exactly where the story goes. I really got into this film's atmosphere, although it wasn't perfect. The plot was a little obvious, with some strong similarities to "Diabolique", and something about the whole movie doesn't click, although Cushing does give an effectively ambiguous performance.
The final feature for Friday night was "From Beyond the Grave", a 1974 anthology film from Amicus Films. I was thrilled that our print featured one of the film's alternate titles, "The Creatures". Cushing is a shopkeeper with an antiques store known as Temptations Ltd, and the four segments of the film focus on different customers who attempt to cheat him in some way and suffer cruel fates because of the cursed items they've purchased. Although it's got some great atmospheric cinematography and sets, the stories are a little dull, especially a humorous one about a man who consults a medium to get rid of an invisible demonic entity perched on his shoulder. The best story is the first, in which a young man buys a large ornate mirror containing a ghastly apparition that compels him to kill people.
|"David, press that button David. Did you hear me David? David? David!"|
The final movie of the weekend was the one I was most anxious to see, 1977's "Shock Waves". I discovered "Shock Waves" years ago on home video and immediately fell in love with it. A small group of tourists on a chartered yacht encounter a strange phenomenon when their compasses go haywire, the sky turns orange, and they are later rammed by what appears to be an immense ship. When dawn comes, they learn the ship that hit them is a rusted out wreck on the reef of a nearby island. Forced to leave the boat due to the damage from the ship, the party soon learns that they're being stalked by a group of waterlogged zombies, products of a German experiment to create unkillable soldiers for use in World War II. The commander of the project, played by Peter Cushing, is the only inhabitant of the island, living in self-imposed exile. The return of the ship, and the return of the zombies, signals the end for him and anybody else who can't escape the island in time. "Shock Waves" suffers from poor editing and pacing, along with muddled motivations. Countless times we see the zombies getting in and out of the water, for no apparent reason, intercut with scenes of victims hiding in places on land, and in a few places there seemed to have been scenes cut out, resulting in a confused narrative. There is also very little gore, as the zombies don't want to eat you, just drown you. These flaws don't hurt the movie too much though, and they actually contribute to the dreamlike atmosphere a great deal. The zombies are very cool, too.
What a great program it was this year! Being the huge Cushing fan that I am, I was thrilled to see so many films at once in which he appeared. Even the trailers in between the films were mostly for Peter Cushing movies--even "Star Wars"! The weather was decent as well, just a little bit of rain on Saturday night. It got cold Friday night too, but you have to come prepared for these drive-in marathons. Speaking of being prepared, I am glad the Riverside is prepared to deal with people who have a dead battery at the end of the night...my car wouldn't start Saturday. Thanks for the jump, guys, and hope to see you in April for the second annual April Ghouls!