Saturday, April 7, 2012

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.

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