Saturday, April 7, 2012

Crooks, vagabonds, reprobates and no-good-nics

Originally sentenced 26-2-2012


A collection of folks you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley...

The Dude in the funny hat, A BITTERSWEET LIFE
Apart from the fact that I can't remember this crazy mofo's name, I can't find a picture of him either. But if you've seen the movie, you'll know who I'm talking about. In spite of his funny hat, this guy is not someone you'd want to point at and say "Hey, look at your funny hat!" He's pretty handy with a razor blade which makes up for said headgear. And the fact he dresses like a nerd. The number he does on the hitman anti-hero comes out of nowhere and is one of the highlights of the movie. However the fact he does not kill the protagonist outright kind of hurts his rep. Not to mention making that hat look even funnier splattered with his blood. 

Brad Whitewood, AT CLOSE RANGE

All the more disturbing for being based on a real person, Whitewood is probably one of the closest approximations to a real criminal I've seen in an American movie. Like most real-life crooks Whitewood is not smart, he's not witty and he does not have grandiose schemes to make lots of money. He's a common thief who steals farm equipment. He's also incredibly paranoid and vindictive, responding to his son (and fellow thief) being jailed by cold bloodedly murdering everyone associated with the poor sap (including his OTHER son) to prevent the cops building a case against him. He shows a similar lack of tact and morality in dealing with his son's girlfriend's attempts to rehabilitate him, but I'll leave THAT particular episode for viewers to find out for themselves. A gothic monster plucked from the headlines, Whitewood is one of Christopher Walken's most underrated and despicable characterisations.

Virgil, TRUE ROMANCE

As soon as James Gandolfini turns up in that hotel room, you know the shit is about to hit the fan. Not taken in for a second by heroine Albama's flirty dumb blonde routine, he plays along with her charade before dropping the bomb (or in this case, her, with a right to the face). To say Albama's eventual, painful victory over the psycho is cathartic is an extreme understatement.  

Blackie, PANIC IN THE STREETS

Not only is Blackie completely batshit crazy (hey he's played by Jack Palance!), he's also the unknowing carrier of bubonic plague which could endanger the entire city. Argh! The quarry of no-nonsense health inspector Richard 'I shit bullets' Widmark, Blackie is a relatively minor hoodlum given major power and significance through a bad turn of fate. Played with deceptive calm by Palance, this is one asshole who knows when a knife in the belly says more than words. In a blackly comic twist, Blackie ends up solving most of the problem for the authorities when he kills all his minions (who are also carriers of the deadly affliction) for disloyalty when they try to turn themselves in.

Varla, FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!

"I don't beat clocks, just people!"

This is one broad you would not want to get caught oogling. Varla is a terrifying whirlwind of big voice, big cheekcbones, big breasts and very bad intentions all wrapped up in the blackest of bows. As she states early in the piece, she's out for everything, "or as much as I can get." Using her body as both sex object and weapon, Varla is ready for any contest, and anyone who dares get in her way. Whether that means sex, a knife in the back or, in the case of one poor body-builder, getting splat against a wall with a car, Varla does it all with a smirk and pithy comeback. She's Bond without the government sanction, Bourne without the conscience, a glamour model with a brain, and the finest character to ever come bubbling out of the mind of Russ Meyer. The real crime of this film is that first-time actress Tura Satana did not gain mainstream recognition out of this performance, leaving Varla as the sole showcase for this charismatic, passionate performer.

Burke, BLOW OUT

This dude has a really bad case of taking his work home with him. A government assassin gone way, way off the reservation, not only is Burke responsible for the death of an upcoming politician, his plan to cover his tracks involves killing a series of women to make this political conspiracy look like a psycho-killer on a spree. While the door is open as to whether Burke really believes this insane plan will work, or is just using it as an excuse to indulge in a sick pastime, he goes about the task with chilling, methodical tenacity. 

Favorite comedy characters

[Originally released 18-2-2012]

Karen Smith, MEAN GIRLS



Amanda Seyfried has made a career out of movies in which she posts letters, recieves letters, writes letters and searches for people who have written letters. A pity, since her first role suggested an entirely different career trajectory: brain dead bombshells who probably can't even read. Karen Smith is stupid. Not tragically stupid, but more of a "Oh Honey" kind of stupid (to quote How I Met Your Mother). Putting her big doe eyes to the cause of dumbassdom, Seyfried scores for the gods. Moving through the movie with the empty headed bliss of a gold fish, she provides the perfect third piece to the "Plastics' who dominate the protagonist's new highschool. Here's hoping Seyfried goes back to comedy soon, because while it was kind of funny, DEAR JOHN nearly killed me.

Vijay Joshi, YOUTH IN REVOLT



"I'm afraid this night has awakened in me a lust of disturbing insatiability!"

I've had a massive man-crush on Adhir Kalyan ever since he was in the great tv show ALIENS IN AMERICA (sadly cancelled after one season). Now he is currently the best thing in the otherwise mundane RULES OF ENGAGEMENT. The dude is funny, and I'm hoping he'll get some better showcases in the near future. One of his best roles thus far is his brief role as Michael Cera's sex-obsessed friend in the hit-and-miss adaptation of C.D. Payne's popular novel. In about 10 minutes of screentime, he steals the show from Cera, as the pair embark on a roadtrip to re-unite Cera's character with his girlfriend. While Cera goes about constructing an alternative sociopathic personality and planning elaborate schemes to seduce his girlfriend, Joshi proves to be a far more succesful lothario, melting an icy nymphomaniac (Rooney Mara) by quoting the Ramayana. In French.

Gene, THE OTHER GUYS

Michael Keaton is the man. Doesn't matter what he's in, he always brings that crazy bit of mojo that raises the calibre of whatever I see him in. Whether it's refereeing the world's quietest fight (in the middle of a wake!) or disciplining the title characters by scaling down Will Ferrell's ordinance ("This is a rape whistle"), Keaton plays the role totally straight, amping the yucks. He was so good I wanted see a whole movie based around this guy, an average joe who works two jobs as a police captain and the night shift as the manager of a major appliance store.

Otto, A FISH CALLED WANDA

I could put the entire cast of A FISH CALLED WANDA in here, but particular kudos must be paid to Kevin Kline and his glorious embodiment of moronic psychopath Otto. Overshadowing two former Pythons and Jamie Lee Curtis, Kline doesn't steal the movie. He owns it from the outset, a volatile combination of pretenious pseudo-intellectualism, gunplay and rage. He's a gun with a human being attached to it. It's a testament to the character's colossal idiocy that he gets run over by a steam roller going about 5 miles an hour.

Dolores, THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS


"I get so excited when you get angry. It makes me feel so much closer to the reading of the will."

Kathleen Turner is the epitome of the comic vamp, adding glorious smoulder to WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT. Likewise, her performance in THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS has a diabolical charm all her own. Effectively amping up her femme fatale role from 1981's BODY HEAT, like Keaton Turner plays the role completely straight. A good thing too, considering the insanity zinging around her co-star an on-incredibly-stupid form Steve Martin. Holding her own against a man who manages to break a plate glass window  with the sheer force of an impromptu erection, Turner er, turns what could have been a flat, two dimensional villain into a carnal, calculating maneater of the highest calibre. "Into the mud, Scum Queen!"

B-Movie Palooza!

[Originally released 22-1-2012]

Here's a brief list of fun little B movies I've seen over the past few years. Not all are great, but they're all good for a Friday night.

The Narrow Margin (1952)

71 minutes of claustrophobic tension as an oldschool hardass tries to protect a woman from gangsters on a highspeed train. So awesome it got a shitty remake.

Hell and High Water (1954)

The story of a group of mercenaries on an old Japanese submarine attempting to foil a plot by Chairman Mao to drop a nuke on Seuol. Richard Widmark is his usual dependable self as an asshole-with-a-heart, Bella Darvi is on hand as a token female crew member and director Sam Fuller keeps the pace up with plenty of underwater hide-n-seek and land-based gun fights. It's Cold war exploitation nonsense but good fun in a comic book kind of way.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

If misanthropy and schadenfreude had a baby, it would be Mike Hammer. Whether it's blackmail, violence or murder, he does it with a shrug and a sneer. Worth a look just for the scene in which Hammer jams a villains' hand in a drawer, with the camera lingering on his easy grin as his foe howls in agony.

Black Sunday (1960)

Mario Bava shows Hammer Films how to make a real Gothic Horror film. With Barbara Steele along for the ride.

Youth of the Beast (1963)

A Yakuza variation of the YOJIMBO story made by someone on a very bad acid trip. Featuring sandstorms that come out of nowhere, psycho momma's boys, and moronic gangsters, this is the most coherent of director Seijun Suzuki's bizzare gangster flicks. The madness ends with an upside down fist fight involving the hero tied to a chandelier. 

Navajo Joe (1966)

A loner with fewer lines than his horse. An army of bad guys. And a town of poor saps stuck in the middle. Mayhem ensues. Stallone was taking notes.

Vixen! (1968)

Fifty minutes of nymphpomaniacal hijinks for the punters. Twenty minutes of pointless political discussion for the censors. Did it work? 

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971)

If it weren't for the plot and characters this would be brilliant. As is, it's two thirds bitchy couple on holiday, one third eyeless monk cadavers wreaking ruin on said couple and their compadres. 

Horror Express (1972)

It's got Peter Cushing looking stern, Telly Savalas looking drunk and Christopher Lee looking badass fighting zombified Cossacks with a scimitar.

Lips of Blood (1975)

Pretentious? Most likely. Illogical? Of course. Mesmerising? To a select few. Gratuituous nudity? OH HELL YEAH. 

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

Scary, action-packed and tense you'll never look at a police station the same way again.

Turkey Shoot (1982)

The lovely little tale of a group of rich pricks hunting prisoners for sport. A piece of Aussie sleaze from a time when its film industry had no sense of morality or high culture. 

Lifeforce (1985)

Don't let the big budget and name cast fool you. This is a B movie through and through. Directed with laughable restraint by Tobe Hooper, this misfire features a bunch of scientists hunting for an alien woman with no clothes on.  

The Hidden (1987)

A Cop. An FBI agent. And an alien parasite. It could have been terrible. Instead it turns out to be one of the smartest, funniest and flat out coolest genre mashups of the 80s.

They Live (1988)

John Carpenter and pro-wrestling legend Rowdy Roddy Piper. Together at last! Memorable for an extended fistfight over a pair of sunglasses and this one liner: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1TcnQxV4BE&feature=related

I Come in Peace AKA Dark Angel (1990)

One cop + One alien drug dealer = best Dolph Lundgren movie EVER. An unapologetic action flick from people who know how to shoot a dude running across a row of cars while they blow up behind him.

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Original Release Date: 3-1-2012


In a galaxy far, far away...


I used to be obsessed with STAR WARS. Nowadays I'm not as fussed. Age, new interests and the bad taste left by George Lucas' prequel films have left me a bit blasé  about the whole deal.

However, every now and then I like to sit back and read some of the tie-in books which Lucasfilm have been cranking out since 1991. And, as I seem want to do, I tend to focus on the bad guys. So, here for your reading pleasure is a small selection of the various muckers who followed in Vader's bloody boot steps... 

Grand Admiral Thrawn

The antagonist of Timothy Zahn’s excellent HEIR TO THE EMPIRE trilogy of novels, Thrawn  immediately stakes his claim as the finest villain of the STAR WARS universe (including the films):

a) As a military commander, Thrawn is no Vader, and he is not able to use the Force.

b) He is an alien, slightly anamolous considering the usual makeup of the Emperor's legions.

c) Highly intelligent, he is able to elucidate how his opponents will act according to their specific backgrounds and cultural roots (not to mention the odd bit of espionage)

d) While he is a military commander, he is not Colonel Kurtz. He shows more compassion for the lives of the men who serve under him, recognizing unlike his predecessors, that his success is dependent upon his minions

e) As the highest ranking official of the Empire, he is in the unenviable position of commanding a drastically reduced fighting force. There are no Death Stars and massive planetary invasions or space battles in Zahn's universe, and Thrawn has to rely upon thurough planning and intelligence to hammer his enemies with what has at hand. The fact it takes until the final book of Zahn's trilogy to see Thrawn fall is a testament to the succcess of the Grand Admiral's tactical genius with limited resources. 

f) More of a stylistic choice than a personality trait, but part of what makes Thrawn so fascinating is that his creator always writes about him from another character's perspective. The reader is left to build a picture of his character without the writer providing Thrawn with his own voice. Added to his lack of a backstory, Thrawn remains one of the most enigmatic and just plain entertaining characters to emerge since the original trilogy's close.

Joruus C'boath

This guy is madder than a sack of monkeys.

The deranged clone of a dead Jedi Master, C’boath is initially Thrawn’s secret weapon in his war against the rebels, using his powers to co-ordinate the Admiral’s forces in a series of synchronized surprise attacks.

Contemptuous of his allies’ plans, C’boath is obsessed with creating a new Jedi order in his own twisted image and makes his own attempt to turn Luke Skywalker to the Dark Side.

Ysanne Isard

The Director of Intelligence is the bureaucrat of the bunch, but don’t let that put you off, Isard is one stone cold bitch.

So untrustworthy even the Emperor considered having her executed, Isard is as duplicituous as they come. Whether it is blackmail, murder or a planetary plague, she is willing to do anything to preserve the Empire (and her position within it).

Her death is suitably ignimonious - shot in the stomach she is left to die by her associates.

Admiral Delak Krennel

More of a petty despot than a real galactic threat Krennel is an opportunistic military man who decides to go it alone, killing a high-ranking noble and stealing his holdings (a few systems of planets and moons and such).

Rather than support the likes of Thrawn and Isard in their attempts to re-establish the Empire, Krennel is content to hold on to what he's got, smart enough to realise that the New Republic is less likely to turn on him if he doesn't make a nuisance of himself. 

Emperor Palpatine's clone(s)

These bastards pop up just as the rebels start getting the act together and suddenly we're back in the good old days of shoot outs, space battles and genocide on a planetary scale.

Carnor Jax

AKA the cool one.

A former Imperial Guard, Jax is responsible for sabotaging Palpatine's clone bodies so that they age rapidly and kill the wily tyrant.

He's also the first villain since the Emperor to show a sense of style, pimping out his Guardsman duds in a cool black'n'red combo, and giving his personal bodyguards black armour. Of course he probably could have done better keeping up his fighting skills and hiring some minions who could a) aim and b) move stealthily. They get wiped out so fast its embaressing.

Admiral Daala

Taking on the entire galaxy with only 4 ships requires balls the size of the Death Star, but reaching way beyond your means is all in a day's work for Daala.

More liberal-minded than her predecessors, Daala is the first Imperial commander to actively challenge the Empire's rules on gender in the military.

Easy to anger, Daala lacks Thrawn's ability to coolly judge a situation, nor Isard's political nous. However, her ruthlessness does have its moments of success: When she realizes the warlords who control the Empire's remaining resources are more concerned with attacking each other than the Rebels, she has them all gassed, clearing the way for her to get the Imperial war machine to come rearing back to life with a suicidal bliztkrieg across the galaxy (good thing that idea doesn't pan out).



RETROGRADE REVIEWS Presents Almost Up-To-Date!

FACE OFF


Pre-Remade 30-12-2011

Remakes. They suck. It's a rule, like gravity.

Taking my interest in movie baddies to a bizzare extreme, here's a selction of no good nics who have had the dis/honour of being ressurrected. 

Paul Mallen/Gregory Anton, GASLIGHT 

The 1944 remake starring Charles Boyer is better known, but arguably falls short in one key respect. Boyer is a servicable villain, his natural charm effectively masking the character's intentions, and lending an air of plausibility to his attempts to drive his wife insane. However, when compared with Anton Walbrook's mesmerising performance in the original, his characterization can come off as something of a one-note.

From the moment he steps onscreen, Walbrook dominates the movie. His voice dripping with disdain Walbrook's simpering, utterly hateful performance is a marvel. The very definition of a cold fish, Walbrook's Mallen gives Thorold Dickinson's movie a sense of earthy, nasty menace sadly lacking in its glossier counterpart.

The Jackal, THE DAY OF THE JACKAL/THE JACKAL

Here's one that proves star power can completely undermine a character's credibility. In the guise of British character actor Edward Fox, The Jackal is a cipher, a rather bland-looking nobody who doesn't look like a hired killer. Which is kind of the point.

As played by Bruce Willis, the Jackal is Bruce Willis - and where Bruce Willis goes, explosions, bad wigs and Jack Black must folllow.

Hannibal Lecktor/Lecter, MANHUNTER/EVERY OTHER HANNIBAL MOVIE

Hannibal Lecter is a role that will always be associated with Anthony Hopkins. And quite rightly so. It was a charismatic, star-making performance. It's a pity however that Hopkins' success was such that it has eclipsed the fine work Brian Cox accomplished as Lecter (renamed Lecktor) in Michael Mann's MANHUNTER (1986). With hindsight, Cox's performance comes across as something of a revelation.

Compared to Hopkin's various touches, Cox delivers a remarkably restrained performance. What is equally amazing to me is how Cox's performance manages to match Hopkins' without any of the OTT lines or stage business we associate with the character. In contrast, Cox's Lecktor is a cold blank slate. 

Appearing in only three scenes, we don't see any of his crimes, and we don't get any insight into what he did to mentally screw up hero Will Graham (William Petersen). Isolated from the film's more obvious touches of horror, it is a testament to Cox's performance that Lecktor's empty, mocking sneer provides the film's most unsettling image.

ANOTHER RETRO HIT (And a special treat for a certain V. Frankovich)

The best movies Hitchcock never made


Original release 27-8-2011

Wait Until Dark

In 1959, Hitch was set to make a film with Audrey Hepburn. Those plans fell through and the director moved on to a little film about a backwater motel and a boy called Norman. While we shall never really know what such a collaboration would have looked like, 1967's WAIT UNTIL DARK gives a good indication of what could have been.

A battle of wills between a sadistic drug pusher and a blind housewife, this is a nasty little thriller with a cruel, downbeat vibe and a highly unscrupulous antagonist.

Bafflingly obscure today, it features one of Hepburn's best performances and an absolutely hypnotizing Alan Arkin as the terrifying Harry Roat Jr. Directed by Bond veteran Terence Young, the film looks fantastically bleak - most obvious in the brilliant decision to set the entire film within the claustrophobic confines of a basement apartment. The final 15 minutes are a tour-de-force which elevates the whole enterprise to the next level.

Le Boucher


When Hitchcock saw this film, he said that it was one of two films he wished he had made. 

Chronicling the budding relationship between a small town school teacher and the local butcher who may just be responsible for the real butchering of several young girls from the community, Claude Chabrol's film is more concerned with exploring the complex and ambiguous bond between its central couple than thriller cliches. 

The Terminator

A blonde heroine in jeoporady. A psychologically damaged hero who tries to save her. A diabolically evil antagonist who cannot be stopped. A plot as tight as a drum, with some appropriately nasty twists to keep pulses racing. Okay, so it doesn't completely fit the bill. But one can imagine Hitch grinning with delight at the glorious implacability of its villain, and the mental and physical obstacles its heroine has to overcome. 

Charade

Featuring Cary Grant and Hepburn (again), CHARADE can't help but bear more than a passing resemblance to Hitch's more escapist thrillers (generally featuring Grant) like TO CATCH A THIEF and NORTH BY NORTHWEST.

Featuring a spiffy title sequence and cracking jazz score by Harry Mancini, the film  is a zippy thriller with some memorable setpieces and some crackling repartee between the two leads. While the plot unfolds at a good clip, the film's best moments are in the blossoming romance between Hepburn's confused widow and Grant's mysterious investigator. Much of the fun comes from the obvious disparity in age between the two stars, and a clever reversal of roles, with a nervous Grant attempting to deflect the attentions of the agressive Hepburn.

What's Going On: A Timeless Classic

Original Recording: 23-6-2011


Before this album, Marvin Gaye was regarded as a talented singer of soul-inflicted pop ditties. That image remains a key component of his popularity. Songs like Wonderful OneAin't That Peculiar and I Heard it Through the Grapevine remain popular standards to this day, epitomizing the timeless appeal of Motown's pop music. 

Let's not mince words, the Sixties were very good years for Marvin Gaye. But 1971's WHAT'S GOING ON is when he went from being a talented singer of contemporary tunes to a great artist with enduring appeal. The first Soul concept album, it represented a complete break from anything Gaye had done previously, and would come to define him for the rest of his career.

The album's genesis came at one of the darkest periods in Gaye's life. His friend and duet partner Tammi Terrell (Ain't No Mountain High Enough) had been diagnosed with a fatal tumor in 1969, collapsing into his arms in the middle of a concert. She never recovered and died the following year, aged only 26. Intensely depressed over his friend's death, Gaye retired from live performing and contemplated leaving the music industry entirely. Terrell's death was not the only millstone around his neck.

He had watched the other rock artists of the Sixties, such as the Beatles, change their images and their musical styles, exploring and expanding the sound and content of rock. Locked into a draconian contract by Barry Gordy's Motown Records, he railed at having to sing the same pop-Soul songs he'd been doing since the early Sixties. For Gaye, his friend's death only highlighted how little he had been able to express of his own creativity as a musician.

And then there was the Sixties themselves. Gaye had lived through the various social and political upheavals which have come to define that decade, and wanted to produce something more meaningful. His brother Frankie had served in Vietnam, and the letters of his experiences haunted Marvin, and compounded his disillusionment with the shallow content of the albums he was recording.

What he needed was a catalyst to give him the impetus he needed. He found it in a song he had originally only intended to produce: What's Going On.

From the rousing title track to the haunting close of Inner City BluesWhat's Going On is an incredible achievement. Filled with Gaye's love of jazz and old-school blues, this album sees the origin of many of Gaye's signature techniques, from the multi-tracked choruses, to the almost cinematic use of strings to accentuate the power of Gaye's voice. 

Picking out the best track is difficult, since, as a concept album, each song leads into the next, maintaining and extending the bitter-sweet atmosphere of the title song to the outright disillusionment of the final track. Aside from those tracks already mentioned, other highlights include Mercy Mercy Me and Wholy Holy, though my personal pick would be the spacey, transcendent Flying High in the Friendly Sky.

WHAT'S GOING ON was an immediate commercial and critical success, and remains one of the most highly regarded albums of all time (Rolling Stone placed it at #6 in their 2003 poll of the best 500 albums of all time). A brilliant testament to the talents of Marvin Gaye and his collaborators, the album completely altered the industry's perception of him, and turned the former pop singer into a cultural icon. The album cemented his status as an enduring inspiration to other artists, and would establish Marvin Gaye as the defining influence on the direction Soul and R'n'B would take in the Seventies and Eighties. Simply brilliant.

RETROGRADE REVIEWS Presents...

Something Wicked... [22-5-2011]


Here's a few kernels to get you through the cold winter months.

Jerry Dandrige, FRIGHT NIGHT

A romantic dimension is briefly hinted at, but there is no pouting with FRIGHT NIGHT's fanged antagonist.  Jerry Dandrige is a cold hearted sociopath with little compunction about destroying anyone who gets in his way.

Deliciously underplayed by Chris Sarandon, there is nothing campy or self-pitying about Jerry. He is the epitome of the old-school vampire, equally capable of ripping someone's head off as he is to cajole and seduce a victim into giving him what he really wants. 

Baron Meinster, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA

When Christopher Lee turned down the chance to return to his signature role in the inevitable sequel, the character was dropped and refashioned into a rather different, but no less effective, creation.

Imprisoned in the childlike, Grimms Brothers-infused surroundings of his mother's castle, the Baron charms a naive young woman into releasing him onto an unsuspecting populace of Queens English-speaking middle Europeans. After converting his mother to the cause, he turns up at a conveniently close finishing school and proceeds to finish off the students. He's well on his way toward creating his own personal harem when Dr Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) turns up, dashing the viewer's hopes for a BIG LOVE-meets-DARK SHADOWS style soap opera.

It all ends with the good Baron destroyed, when Van Helsing jumps into the sail of a windmill, tilting it to form the shadow of a cross. Great stuff.

Severen, NEAR DARK

AKA the best role of Bill Paxton's career.

A raving nutter long before he was turned to the ways of the undead, Severen is one blood sucker you would not want to meet in a darkened alley.

Coming on like a combination of Jim Morrison and a Southern good ol' boy, Severen should have been the launching pad for Paxton to really enter the big time. It's the kind of showcase role Ledger got in the Joker, but the film crashed and burned on release, its reputation only resurrected on video and DVD.  

Throwing a bloodied middle finger to the star-crossed lovers at the centre of the film, Severen is the unofficial spokesperson for the traditional nosferatu manifesto of ruptured arteries and flowing claret. One can only  imagine the merry hell Severen would wreak on Eddie and Bella if he sashayed into the TWILIGHT universe.

Countess Bathory, VAMPIRE HUNTER D: BLOODLUST

Coming out of nowhere like a (literal) bat out of hell, the infamous Countess turns up just in time to save this rather pedestrian movie from being a total time suck. 

Initially appearing as some kind of benevolent vampire ghost, Bathory seems rather harmless. Trapped within a massive blood red fortress (cue the expected-but-welcome theme of gothically tinged murmuring choir), she acts as a kind of undead Mother Theresa by offering refuge to her fellow neck-biters.  

However old habits die hard it seems, as Bathory shows her true colors by using her guests as blood sacrifices for her resurrection.

This climaxes in the memorable image of the film's titular hunter confronting a re-invigorated Countess transformed into a literal river of blood.

A completely out of left field spin on an old archetype, this film represents the Countess's most original incarnation. 

Abigail Williams, THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE

Another re-write of a real life nutter, Abigail Williams may be most well known to viewers as the anti-heroine of Arthur Miller's THE CRUCIBLE.

Like the Countess of VAMPIRE HUNTER D, Williams makes a welcome appearance here, turning a slapdash mass of cheese into something a little bit more exciting.

One of a surprisingly strong and varied line-up of rogues (props also to the tatoo-ed Chinese wizard and his dragon), Williams occupies the smallest amount of screen time, but packs the most impact.

An eerily sedate presence, Salem's favorite tattle-teller provides the film with its only real moments of tension, while proving once and for all that a child in a smock can be scarier than Nicholas Cage's hairpiece.

The Witch Queen, THE WITCHES

There is little to hint at the evil old crone hiding behind the exquisitely turned out features of Angelica Huston in this unheralded child's classic.

An old school hag in new duds, this is one biddy who doesn't mess around. Within minutes of turning up onscreen she's turned one of her underlings into a pile of ash, a pair of nosy kids into mice and given new meaning to the words 'face lift.'

A glorious confection of the comically grotesque and the genuinely scary, Huston's Witch Queen ranks as one of the best interpretations of Roald Dahl's wonderfully nasty creations onscreen. 

"The Man", END OF DAYS

This movie is BOBBINS. Let's get that out of the way. I didn't like it. But that doesn't take away from the fact that Gabriel Byrne's performance as 'The Man' AKA that guy with the horns and fork-ed tail is a great re-interpretation of a very over-played villain.

You can't really go wrong with the Devil as your bad guy, but Byrne is more than up to the task of injecting the well-trodden character with his own spin.

Completely omnipotent, his Devil is a quietly smoldering presence, letting his actions speak for themselves while bedlam erupts around him. Disguising a truly explosive temper beneath an urbane veneer, his jocular and mocking creation makes for a more diabolically pleasing antagonist than the more OTT interpretations by the likes of Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino.