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Science+Fiction Festival Report: Christopher Lee on Modern Horror Movies

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Christopher Lee (click for larger image)In late November the 2009 Science+Fiction Festival was held in Trieste, Italy. This happening is an international science fiction event dedicated to exploring the worlds of fantasy, experimental languages, and new technologies in film production, television, and visual and performing arts.

Most of the movies and lectures were concentrated on science fiction and fantasy, but there was quite a good share of horror related happenings. While the majority of attendees were psyched that cyberpunk guru Bruce Sterling was presiding over the international jury, I was mainly interested in visits by two legendary horror icons — Roger Corman, who was just awarded with an “early” honorary Oscar, and Sir Christopher Lee, who had recently been knighted during the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

These two genre heavyweights were certainly the icing on the top of a well produced and run film festival for me, but unfortunately, due to business obligations I missed Corman, who gave an introduction to a couple of screenings of his cult movies The Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Raven, and Masque of the Red Death. Christopher Lee was the star of the final two days of the event, and it was certainly interesting to listen to his 90-minute masterclass as well as an honor to meet him afterward.

The masterclass was held inside a nearby museum building in a jam-packed auditorium. I was pleasantly surprised that Mr. Lee decided to attend the event as just a couple of weeks ago, shortly after the final shot of Hammer’s The Resident with Hilary Swank, he tripped and seriously injured his back. Lee is now in his late eighties, and he looked a bit shaken-up (who wouldn’t be?), but the man was still full of energy.

The topics discussed with the general audience were not something of grave importance to horror movie buffs as Lee talked about Lord of the Rings, meeting Tolkien way back in Oxford, his career that almost bypassed movies and went to opera, and more. Overall it was an incredible treat to listen as this living legend shared of himself.

Science+Fiction Festival Report: Christopher Lee on Modern Horror Movies

After his talk was over, a select few members of media had a chance to do one-on-one interviews with him. Mr Lee was a bit tired and slightly upset that said interviews weren’t brought to his attention earlier so I decided to ask him just one of the several questions I had planned.

My question was “What do you think about modern horror movies?” “I don’t watch them,” Lee paused for a bit and then carried on, “I have seen photographs of them, and I find them revolting. They make a fatal mistake – they show everything. They say that this is what the audience wants, which to me is incredible. It is what you don’t see, not what you do see, that is frightening. Everything is sex, blood, insides taken out, and blood, blood, blood … I am just not interested in that at all”.

During the interviews Mr. Lee was accompanied by Philip Bergson, a fairly pompous film critic from the United Kingdom, who almost shut me down when I started with my horror related questions. Apparently horror is not one of the topics Christopher Lee likes to discuss. Especially his portrayal of the Dracula character. During the masterclass, when the questions began to delve into this area, Bergson abruptly put a stop to things. He didn’t even refer to the Count character by his name; instead he was referred to as “that character based on Bram Stoker’s novel“.

When it was over, in the elevator I learned one of the questions a local journalist was planning to ask but didn’t get a chance to. It would have been a blast to see the reaction of Lee and Bergson. The question was as follows: “Mr. Lee, what do you think about the differences between Dracula and the Twilight vampire movies?

Oh, the horror…

BK

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The Crucifixion Review – Should’ve Left This One Nailed to the Cross

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Starring Sophie Cookson, Corneliu Ulici, Ada Lupu

Directed by Xavier Gens


Claiming to be inspired by actual events, director Xavier Gens’ The Crucifixion forgoes the affecting shocks and awes, and instead beats its audience into the ground with a laundry-list of ho-hum dialogue and lesser-than-stellar instances…forget the priest, I need a friggin’ Red Bull.

A 2005 case is spotlighted, and it revolves around a psychotically damaged woman of the cloth (nun for all you laymen) who priests believed was inhabited by ol’ Satan himself. With one rogue priest in command who firmly believed that this was the work of something satanic, the nun was subject to a horrific exorcism in which she was chained to a cross and basically left to die, which ultimately resulted in the priest being stripped of his collar and rosary…how tragic. Enter an overzealous New York reporter (Cookson) who is intently focused upon traveling to Romania to get the scoop on the botched undertaking. After her arrival, the only point of view that seems to keep sticking with interviewees is that the man who sat close to the lord killed a helpless, innocent and stricken woman, that is until she meets up with another nun and a village priest – and their claims are of something much more sinister.

From there, the battle between good and evil rages…well, let me rephrase that: it doesn’t exactly “rage” – instead, it simmers but never boils. Unfortunately for those who came looking for some serious Father Karras action will more than likely be disappointed. The performances border on labored with cursory characters, and outside of some beautiful cinematography, this one failed to chew out of its five-point restraints.

I’d normally prattle on and on about this and that, just to keep my word limit at a bit of a stretch, but with this particular presentation, there just isn’t much to bore you all with (see what I just did there). Gens certainly had the right idea when constructing this film according to blueprints…but it’s like one of those pieces of Wal-Mart furniture that when you open the box, all you can find are the instructions that aren’t in your language – wing and a prayer…but we all know what prayers get you, don’t we, Father?

My advice to all who come seeking some hellacious activity – stick to The Exorcist and you’ll never be let down.

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Summary

The Crucifixion is one of those films that needs the help of the man above in order to raise its faith, but I think he might have been out to lunch when this one came around.

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Giallo Makes A Comeback With Crystal Eyes

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The giallo genre has somewhat fallen off the radar in recent years, but that’s all about to change with the new Argentinian film Crystal Eyes (original title: Mirada de Cristal). Set in 1985, the film’s about a series of murders taking place in the glamorous and colorful fashion world, so it sounds like a true giallo throwback.

Crystal Eyes was directed by Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano, and stars Silvia Montanari, Anahí Politi, Erika Boveri, and Claudio Armesto. It screened at both the Mar del Plata International Film Festival and the Buenos Aires Rojo Sangre Film Festival, and received a great audience reception at both. We were sent the trailer for the film along with the poster and a bunch of lobby cards, which we proudly present below.

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Black Christmas Blu-ray Review – Making Its U.K. Debut From 101 Films

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Starring Keir Dullea, Olivia Hussey, John Saxon, Art Hindle

Directed by Bob Clark

Distributed by 101 Films


There is only one Bob Clark Christmas movie I watch each year and it doesn’t feature Ralphie and his Red Ryder fantasies.

The endurance of Clark’s 1974 legendary slasher, Black Christmas, can be chalked up to a number of factors but the greatest is this: it is a disturbing film. I frequently come across horror message board topics asking for genuinely scary titles devoid of jump scares and excessive gore, but oddly enough Black Christmas doesn’t get many mentions. Maybe because it has been relegated to the “seasonal viewing only” heap? Regardless, fans will agree that the unsettling events portrayed don’t diminish with repeat viewings; if anything, subsequent watching serves to reinforce that it is a standout among a sea of imitators. The film is also a noted influence on John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) – arguably the granddaddy of slasher films – adding a bit of prestige to its legacy.

The girls of Pi Kappa Sig are throwing a holiday party before the Christmas break when, toward the end of the night, they receive a phone call from a man they’ve been calling “The Moaner”, who has a habit of calling and making unusual noises. Jess (Olivia Hussey) initially accepts the call but also allows her other sisters to listen in, prompting outspoken Barb (Margot Kidder) to jump on the line and goad this mystery man. She and Phyllis (Andrea Martin) argue over the possibility this guy may be more threatening than anyone realizes. Unbeknownst to the ladies partying downstairs, however, moments before the phone call came through an unidentified person (very likely this same caller) snuck up the side of the house and into the attic. And once the party wraps up that same person is found hiding in Claire’s (Lynne Griffin) closet, whereupon she is strangled and placed in a rocking chair in the attic.

The next day Claire’s father comes to the campus to meet her and is understandably stood up. He heads to the sorority house and reports her missing, at which point the girls and their housemother, Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), agree to help him locate her. The file a report with the police, led by Lt. Fuller (John Saxon), and Jess also wrangles in Claire’s semi-boyfriend, Chris (Art Hindle), who helps bolster the search by raising hell at the station. Jess, meanwhile, is having problems of her own after confessing to her boyfriend, Peter (Keir Dullea), she is pregnant. She wants an abortion; he is vehemently against it. Claire’s absence grows more concerning when another missing girl is found dead in a nearby park, prompting the cops to ramp up their efforts. The girls are being picked off one by one as the unseen assailant remains hidden in the attic, continuing his phone calls that come after each murder. The cops suspect Peter may be a person of interest, as his interactions with Jess have become increasingly aggressive, but everyone is in for a shock when a tap on the line reveals the true source of the calls – they are coming from within the house.

With the film having been around for over forty years, and fans having been sold one “upgraded” home video version after the next, I suspect most readers are more interested in how Scream Factory’s Blu-ray stacks up against similar editions – which is basically my way of saying this review is a bit glib. For the uninitiated, however, let me say that I cannot overstate how exceptional Clark’s film is – never giving the killer an identity, an entire subplot concerning abortion, a palpable sense of grief for Claire’s father, a cast of interesting, unique people who don’t ever feel like archetypes, and a potentially downer of an ending. Some of his moviemaking tricks are brilliant, like the decision to create Billy’s voice from a combination of three different people (one a woman) and using interchangeable actors to portray the killer so you’re never quite sure who is in the attic. Carl Zittrer’s score is disorienting and minimal, making use of odd instrumentation to add extra unease; it also appears infrequently, giving the movie more of a real life quality. Black Christmas was a reasonable success upon release, more so commercially than critically, but time has been kind to this old gem and many now view it as an outright horror classic.

Hell, it was Elvis’ favorite Christmas movie.

Cult label 101 Films is giving the film its U.K. debut, presenting a transfer that is nearly identical to the remastered version Scream Factory released last year in North America. That 1.85:1 1080p picture is very likely the best this film can and will ever look. Black Christmas has a long home video history of looking very grainy, murky, dulled, and soft. I can’t say the new disc’s results are far off that mark but there are clear improvements. For one, grain has been resolved in a tighter field that looks less “noisy” and more “grindhouse-y”; do not expect an image clear as a crystal unicorn by any means. There is still softness to many faces and objects though detail looks far better here than it ever has before. Colors are more vibrant, too. Black levels run on the hazy side but they’re more stable than ever. The only noticeable difference between the Scream Factory and 101 Films versions are the latter is a touch brighter, allowing for a little more detail to filter through.

Audio is available via an English LPCM 5.1 surround sound track or a 2.0 stereo option. The multi-channel effort grants the unsettling soundtrack and Billy’s insane vocalizations more room to breathe, ratcheting up the creepiness thanks to the sense of immersion. Unlike the Scream Factory edition, the original mono track is not included.

Only a handful of extra features have been included, all of which can be found on the Scream Factory edition, too.

“Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle” – Hindle, who still owns that jacket, talks about being a working actor in Canada when there wasn’t much work, as well as how he wound up auditioning for Clark for a different role.

“Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin” – The actress who is most famous for having a plastic bag over her head tells a few tales from the set.

“Black Christmas Legacy” – This is a lot of interviews from the film’s actors and notable fans. I found it to be a bit tedious.

A handful of original TV and radio spots have been included, along with the “40th Anniversary Reunion Panel: Fan Expo Canada 2014”.

The package also includes a fold-out poster, reversible cover art, and a DVD copy.

Special Features:

  • Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle
  • Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin
  • Black Christmas Legacy
  • Original TV and Radio spots
  • 40th Anniversary Reunion Panel: Fan Expo Canada 2014
  • Black Christmas
  • Special Features
4.0

Summary

This is an easy recommendation for purchase if you live in the U.K., since this is the film’s Blu-ray debut. Stateside readers may find this region-free version attractive due to the price, but know that it does contain significantly fewer extras than the in-print Scream Factory release. Either way, fans on both sides of the Atlantic have a version worth buying.

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