Riding Coattails: The Haunting Of Hill House and the Issue Re-Imaginings

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When I heard Netflix had done a series based on The Haunting of Hill House, I was happy.   Hill House is undoubtedly a high watermark in horror. Some would say one of the highest and I wouldn’t argue with that assessment.

Usually, I’m the person who watches things ten years after everyone else does, but for whatever reason I jumped on the bandwagon with this one. I watched. And I got hooked. And I fell in love. And then it all slipped away. And then I got angry because it was happening again.

Hill House, that venerable grand dame of the horror genre, had just been re-imagined.

The first time I became aware of re-imaginings was with Battlestar Galactica. I’d barely seen the original but for some reason I decided to try the new one. I got through two seasons before I lost interest. I remember thinking that it was nothing like the original. Then I got annoyed when the realization set in:   These writers had had their own original ideas, slapped “Galactica,” “Cyclon,” and “Starbuck” on it and manipulated the existing fan base for their own profit.

Call me an artiste (who barely gets published and has to work minimum wage jobs, I admit), but that seems skeezy. Why wouldn’t you have enough faith in your own ideas to give them their own name?

Remakes are one thing.   At their core their makers aren’t trying anything new. They may be expanding on the concepts or highlighting different aspects of the story (or running the story in the ground for profit). Franchises are another thing. Different stories within the same world can be fun (though some franchises need to stop at a certain point). But neither of these strategies pretends the work is something it isn’t.

Penny Dreadful was where I noticed it next. Except that the makers of Penny Dreadful stole from several authors. I didn’t make it past the second episode. Why did Dracula have to be in that show?   Why not another vampire? Your own vampire? Why did Frankenstein have to be your science guy? You couldn’t have made him any scientific rivals?

As I said, I didn’t get past the second episode, so I can’t tell if the writers actually kept those characters as the original writers had created them – which means they were lazy and couldn’t be bothered to populate the world they had created – or they put the names on their own creations for the recognition. Either way, I’m not a fan.

I actually think what bugs me even more is that if someone bases their characters too closely off the likes of Dracula or Frankenstein but call them something else, they get written off as derivative. Turns out if you use the name, you can do whatever you want! It makes me think of The Black Lizard, the villain of Edogawa Rampo’s novel of the same name. There’s a great line where she talks about how, if you want to get away with something, you do it in broad daylight with your head held high, then everyone will believe you’re supposed to be doing it and let you.

But we’re here to talk about The Haunting of Hill House.

I’m a fan of both Absentia and Oculus so I had faith in Mike Flanagan’s abilities. And the show started with that line of lines “whatever walks in that house walked alone.” I thought I’d be able to forgive it anything from there.

Turns out, I couldn’t.

The group of investigators of the novel becomes a family led by real estate dealer parents that moves into Hill House intending to flip it. They share names with the characters in the book and a few perfunctory traits. Nell is frail and the house focuses on her. Luke is the bad boy. Theo has some psychic abilities. What unfolds is a lovely story about a dysfunctional family unable to face a shared trauma and nearly destroyed by grief.

It has some good things going for it. It’s the type of story I would expect Flanagan to tell and tell well. There’s a lot to be mined here and it almost works (Flanagan and crew probably shouldn’t have been given ten episodes.   Forcing them to keep it more compact probably would have helped the proceedings a lot).

The end of episode 6, where Nell as the Broken Neck Lady is standing next to her own coffin after watching her family argue all night, and the voice of herself as a child says over and over, “I was right here the whole time and you couldn’t see me” left me a sobbing wreck for about 20 minutes.

I’m not against family drama in horror. What I am against is claiming Hill House destroyed these people’s lives and then have largely nothing to do with the building. In her novel, Jackson is extremely careful not to reveal whether what the investigator’s experience is caused by the house or by the mental state of the people in it. Flanagan seems almost to be trying to do this and maybe that’s why they stayed away from the house so much. There’s just one little problem with them taking that avenue: This Hill House is haunted beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Now, for my part, I don’t think the Hill House of the novel is haunted. I think the house is sentient. But it can be interpreted as haunted and I don’t mind someone running with that at all. The Hill House of the show is haunted. By a shit ton of ghosts. I’m okay with this for two reasons. First, my natural inclination. Yay ghosts!   MORE GHOSTS!!! Second, the sheer number of ghosts they put in the house fits nicely into my belief that Hill House is one of the best, most calculating and dangerous baddies the horror genre has ever produced.

The problem comes in when you realize that they’ve created all these beautiful ghosts (who really are magnificently designed) and we never find out who they are or why they are. As far as I’m concerned, that is a crime. Ghosts are as much characters as anyone else in your story. They deserve development and attention as much as any living character does.

Episode 9 actually bugged me a little. It was amazing! I love Poppy! And that seduction and the mental breaking of Olivia is what the book was all about! But why didn’t it happen six or seven episodes ago?

Then I watched episode 10 and the whole house of cards came crashing down and I realized I let this suck me in. This is my own fault. I saw this for the re-imagining it was from the beginning but I allowed it in instead of flipping it the finger and walking away like I should have.

I can’t compare this show to the novel because it has nothing to do with the novel and it never did.   This is a story that Mike Flanagan wanted to tell but somewhere along the way, someone decided to slap the name “Hill House” on it to make it easier to market.

Remember, writers, your idea is useless unless you can shoehorn it into something that has already been extensively marketed!

I can judge the show on its own merits and it falls in line with the rest of the re-imaginings: a few bright spots in an otherwise sloppy, half-assed, manipulative and melodramatic pile of trash that almost manages to convince you it’s something it’s not.

I have to admit, I can’t quite be as high and mighty about this as I’m being. I enjoyed the hell out of Sleepy Hollow and the Resident Evil franchise. But while Sleepy Hollow is a re-imagining, it was also a great screaming train wreck that the creators never took seriously and they basically stood and pointed the whole time going, “look what we did to American history! Isn’t this stupid?!” The Resident Evil Franchise likewise didn’t aim very high, but it also had zombies with rocket launchers and chainsaws. I really will forgive anything if you have zombies with rocket launchers and chainsaws. If The Haunting of Hill House had had zombies with rocket launchers and chainsaws, this would be a very different post.

There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by great works. I’d be the first to admit that about 3/4 of everything I write is inspired by Ju-On. There’s nothing wrong with that (I mean, besides the fact that I could think of something else every once in awhile). But I also don’t call everything I write Ju-On and expect Shimizu fans to support me because they supported him.

So here’s to the day when writers will no longer be expected to ride the coat tails of those who came before. They’ll be allowed to believe in their work and let it shine on its own.

Until that time…

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Vincent Price Tag

Sometimes knowing a bunch of Monster Kids has its benefits. Like when they ask you to talk copiously about Vincent Price! A few weeks ago, Derek Koch of Monster Kid Radio got me in on the game of Vincent Price tag going around, so here goes.

There are 10 questions to answer about Vincent Price and these questions have no wrong answers, just personal opinions.

1.) What is your favorite Vincent Price horror film?

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House Of Wax.   Have you ever seen people talk about The Princess Bride, and they get this far away look in the eyes, maybe tear up a little, and their voice will get very soft and they’ll say how much they love that movie? And you can tell it just hits something really deep in them that they can’t quite identify? Yeah, that’s me and House of Wax. Now, there is a concrete reason. I have a deep, deep affection for horror films about art and artists and period horror.   Also, wax museums are just inherently creepy as fuck. But I also think this is one of Vincent Price’s best performances. He pretty much has to play every type of character in this movie: A nice guy, a raging deformed psychopath, and a psychopath pretending to be a nice guy. It’s also shows the consequences of the artistic equivalent of revoking a scientist’s funding. This movie has so much to recommend it – including really well staged 3D set pieces if you get the chance to see it in 3D – that I had to choose it.

2.) What is your favorite Vincent Price non-horror film?

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The 1948 version of The Three Musketeers. I had to admit, there’s a lot I adore about this film that doesn’t involve Vincent Price, so him being in it is just icing on the cake. Gene Kelly is ridiculously charming as D’Artagnan even though he was really too old to play the character. Lana Turner is perfection as M’Lady (I mean, Dumas basically wrote that character for Turner, even though he may not have realized it), and a drop dead GORGEOUS Angela Lansbury as Queen Anne. Everything about this movie is great and Vincent looks perfectly at home plotting in the halls of Versailles.

3.) Who would win in a fight between Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee?

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Now, even though I said above there’s no wrong answers, this question does have an objectively right answer: Christopher Lee. First of all, it would never be Peter Cushing because he was such a gentle soul that I don’t even think you could get him to fight.   I mean, the only thing it really seems would have made him mad would be to insult his wife and I still can’t imagine he would have fought anybody over it. I’m sure Vincent could hold his own but Sir Christopher spent at least 4 years hunting and killing Nazi’s in World War II. The borderline disturbing story of how Sir Christopher put a foley artist in his place during the shooting of Lord of the Rings is reason enough to proclaim him the winner for me.

4.) What was the better Vincent Price contribution to a musical album – his work on Michael Jackson’s Thriller or his participation on Alice Cooper’s Welcome To My Nightmare?

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As much as I love Alice Cooper, Thriller has a special place in my heart. When I was little, my parents worked at a video store and they had Thriller there to rent. The tape had the video and the making of. Well, I rented that thing constantly. The weird thing? I couldn’t watch the video. It scared me too bad. I watched the making of featurette obsessively. Over and over. Watching people making up the zombies wasn’t scary, and for some reason it didn’t make the video itself less scary. But I HAD TO WATCH IT! Despite being part of a family of Alice Cooper fans, I didn’t start to appreciate Welcome To My Nightmare until I was older.

5.) If you could replace one actor in any horror film with Vincent Price, which role would you choose?

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I’m gonna go off the beaten path on this one. In 1949, Orson Welles starred as the infamous Count Cagliostro in a film called Black Magic. This film isn’t strictly horror, I suppose, but as a woman it is deeply disturbing to watch a film with guys running around hypnotizing women into slavery. That said, I think Price as Cagliostro would have rocked this film sooooo hard. He shares a great deal of that mesmeric charm with Welles, and I did enjoy Welles in this movie, but I think Price hamming it up and making the performance of such a flamboyant showman so grandiose would have benefited the movie a lot.

6.) If you met Vincent Price in a movie, he would probably kill you. How would you want to be killed by Vincent Price?

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PHIBES DEATH! I want a Phibes murder. Preferably something along the lines of getting impaled on a catapulted unicorn head and having to be unscrewed down, or being inexplicably shoved inside a giant glass bottle. But I’ll let the Doctor decide. He knows what he’s doing. I’m not gonna tell an artist how to do his job.

7.) Vincent Price guest-starred in several classic TV shows.   What is your favorite appearance?

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Egg-Head from Batman. First of all, Batman. I’m always gonna say Batman (unless Peter Cushing is also an acceptable answer), but you can also just tell Vincent is enjoying himself when he’s playing Egg-Head.

8.) Vincent Price starred in 8 films with the word “house” included in the title. Which one of those in your favorite?

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House of Wax.   See my answer to #1.

9.) If Vincent Price would read you a bedtime story, which one would it be?

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“The Cat Who Walked By Himself” by Rudyard Kipling. I think that story would suit his voice and cadence perfectly. And I just love that story.

10.) Vincent Price lent his voice to several animated shows and films. Which voice over is your favorite?

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The Great Mouse Detective. This movie is the first time I “met” Vincent Price. I saw it in the theater with my aunt and uncle when I was 6. I actually didn’t care for the movie that much at the time, except I did think Ratigan was cool. Revisiting the movie when I was older showed me why I didn’t appreciate it when I was little: Even though it’s an animated Disney feature, it really isn’t a kid’s movie. It’s a pretty straight Sherlock Holmes story (highlighted with a cameo by Basil Rathbone), which is over the average little kid’s head anyway. The music is the stand out, being composed by the great Henry Mancini. This also means it goes over the kid’s head because the music is more sophisticated. It’s pleasant, isn’t catchy and peppy in a typical Disney way. All this is highlighted by the scene with a dancer mouse, taking her clothes off in a dive bar along the Thames while singing “let me be good to you.” Now, this is a great song. I actually have it on my iPod and I listen to it all the time, but in a kid’s movie? Ehhh, not so much. Also, “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind,” the villain song for this movie, definitely does not get credit as being one of the best villain songs Disney made for a movie.

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The Hard Truth – A Discussion of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

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One of the things that makes George Romero’s zombie films great is that each one adapts to the age in which it was made.  Romero had the ability to understand the issues facing each generation and make a film that dealt with them.

The last place I expected to see that happen again was in a Jurassic Park movie.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the latest installment in the saga of misguided dinosaur related activities, has been released to mixed reviews.  To be sure, it’s not a perfect movie.  It may not actually be a good movie.  But it is a damn near perfect reboot of the series and it is a movie that reflects our times.  Like the Resident Evil franchise before it, it is deceptively powerful and realistic.

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Fallen Kingdom starts some time after Jurassic World ended.  There’s an island full of dinosaurs, but the volcano on that island is suddenly about to explode.  There’s a beautifully shot scene where a bunch of impossibly shady people are in the park hunting for the remains of Indominus Rex, the big bad dino from the last movie. After some people get eaten, we shift gears.

The U.S. government is scrambling to figure out what to do about the dinosaurs on the island that is about to destroy itself.  Do we leave it alone?  Do we move them?  Whose responsibility is it?  Whose problem is it?  These animals are endangered and we have to protect endangered species.  But this endangered species was created by us, and not any higher power, so do we owe them anything?  Doesn’t that make it okay to let them die?  They’re unnatural.  Besides, they would completely up-end the balance of the world and destroy humanity!

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Right from the get-go, Fallen Kingdom is heavy.  Jurassic Park was a movie made at a time when things could be as simple as black and white, good and bad, playing God wrong!

Fallen Kingdom was made now when we have to deal with a new concept:  Nuance.  This movie starts after the deed is done.  Dinosaurs have been made, whether that’s right or wrong is immaterial.  We now have to deal with the consequences.  And it’s a thorny issue.  These are living creatures that represent real progress in many fields of science.  There is no easy, quick fix.  Any answer is going to require soul searching and quite a bit of discomfort.

Any American reading this can relate to all of that.  The deed is done.  All that remains is to determine what we’re going to do about it.

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Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) has switched gears from uptight, driven-to-a-fault business woman to dinosaur rights activist, using all the charm and business acumen she gained to get government officials on their side to help save the dinosaurs somehow.  She thinks she’s making headway when news comes in:  The U.S. government is washing its hands of whole affair and will let the dinosaurs die.

But Claire gets her chance when she receives a call from Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), the business representative of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell).  Lockwood, who was a colleague of the first film’s John Hammond, believes the dinosaurs should be saved and has a location for what is essentially a nature preserve all planned out, where the dinosaurs will live and no tourists will be allowed.  All the technology to track the dinosaurs to save them is still on the island and can be activated by someone who worked there, like Claire.  Mills also seems quite keen on making sure that one particular dinosaur makes it off the island: Blue, the velociraptor that is pretty much everyone’s favorite character from Jurassic World.

This necessitates bringing in the required-in-an-action-movie douche bag with a heart of gold, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt).  Grady has decided to move out into the middle of nowhere and build himself a cabin and when Claire approaches him to help, he doesn’t seem keen on saving the dinosaurs.  Nature just needs to play itself out here.  The world wasn’t ready for them then and they’re still not now.  But Claire plays on Grady’s attachment to Blue to get him to come along.

Also in the mix is Zia Rodriquez (Daniella Pineda) as a paleo-veterinarian, which makes sense would be a thing if you live in a world where dinosaurs exist and probably the character in the movie with the biggest cajones.  There’s also our computer guy, Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), who is mainly there for plot convenience and comic relief. That’s not to say he doesn’t do a good job of it, he is very funny.

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We get to the island to find out that several species have already been captured by a group that has clearly been on the island for a while, despite what Lockwood and Mills said.  The group is headed by Ken Wheatley (played with nasty relish by Ted Levine), a guy that is so clearly the archetypal White Hunter that not only do you think it when you see him for the first time, Grady actually comments on it.

Dearing and Webb manage to get the tracking system back on-line and Grady goes out to find Blue.   He finds the dinosaur (yay! I mean, we knew he was going to find her because of the advertisements but I was still happy to see her), but they get ambushed by Wheatley, who grievously wounds Blue and leaves Grady for dead (lucky they have a paleo-veterinarian along!).

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Grady, Dearing and Webb reunite and run for the boat that is taking the animals off the island. Of course they make it because they’re the heroes and we’re only half way through the run time, but then something happens:   The movie gets horribly bleak.

Our heroes are savoring their escape when they look back and see a brontosaurus on the dock calling after the boat. Even the illegal animal hunters stop and see lava envelope the animal. The camera barely looks away as we watch through the smoke as the animal falls into the lava and dies.

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I’m not gonna lie, I started sobbing so hard it freaked out the kid sitting next to me.

This is where we see the vast difference a few decades can make. In the first movie, “life finds a way.” The dinosaurs were triumphant and if they died because of our neglect, it was off screen and lamented wistfully by wise but misguided people who really meant the best.

These days, these things we created are dying because of our deliberate and determined neglect.   There’s no looking away. You face the consequences of the decisions you make. You look at what you’ve done. Our decisions hurt living beings that had no say in the situation they’re in. And facing up to that is the only way to fix it.

I also think that it’s no small coincidence that the people who witness this destruction, the hunters, are the ones who profit the most off it and who are not the people who would actually be touched by it, as is really what has happened to pretty much every animal that is going extinct right now.

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Rodriguez manages to save Blue’s life after an incident with a T-Rex that is actually pretty funny and when the dinosaurs come ashore, the movie takes a weird, seemingly nonsensical turn: The animals are taken to Lockwood’s oddly and purposely Gothic estate and put in an underground lab.

There’s a lot of “WTF?!” in the movie shifting to that location, but tone wise it does make sense for the movie. The way the movie until this point has a definite horror vibe. The use of light and dark and the creeping dread that surrounds the appearance of many of the dinosaurs (as opposed to the action style “oh there’s a noise! AH!   THE DINOSAUR JUST JUMPED OUT AND IS EATING MY FACE!”) is exquisite, and the emphasis on the decay of the surroundings on the island is masterful. It’s a horror cliché, the moment when Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie is walking around the lab she just discovered, turns her back on the bars blocking a big black space from which emerge claws that slowly glide forward and brush her ponytail.

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It starts to make sense when we see the return of Dr. Wu (I LOVE B.D. WONG SO MUCH!) and that he and Mills have engineered the creation of a hybrid of the dead Indominus Rex and Blue, who had shown extraordinary levels of intelligence and the ability to bond with people and obey commands and that’s why Wu and Mills wanted her specifically. Mills intends to sell this creature, along with all the other dinosaurs he saved, on the weapon’s black market. Lockwood is livid when he finds out and when he tries to put a stop to it, Mills murders him.

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A lot of people started rolling their eyes at this point. Selling dinosaurs as weapons. It’s stupid. And it’s lazy writing. And it’s unfeasible. That wouldn’t happen if dinosaurs were real.

*pauses to pull out the soap box she used when talking about the Resident Evil franchise*

Hate to break it to you folks, but this part of the movie is 1000% accurate. If dinosaurs existed, this is exactly what we would be happening with them. They would be created by corporations to be weaponized or pharmaceutical companies to create a new brand of snake oil.

PEOPLE SUCK AND THEY CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS BECAUSE THEY DESTORY THEM.

The thing I like about this film is that it has no illusions about people being good. Humans like to look at situations like the one in the movie and say, “that would never happen, people aren’t like that. I would step up and do something about it.”

That means you’re not paying attention to the world around you. It is happening. All of it.   Right now. We let it happen every day. The internet has been weaponized for crap’s sake. What would ever make you think something as awesome as dinosaurs wouldn’t be?

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This is why I particularly love the fact that they brought Old Dark House elements into this movie.   Fallen Kingdom basically turns into a 50’s sci-fi/horror hybrid (with better special effects) after we leave the island. Basement laboratories hold secrets, white hunters bring specimens, people’s best intentions are betrayed for the benefit of another, families have skeletons in their closets and the truth will come to light by the monsters we’ve created.

This brings the philosophical concepts of this movie, and this franchise, full circle. It makes the underpinnings timeless. Whether in a musty old mansion or in a near future where humans have achieved genetic mastery, people have always been greedy and manipulative and violent and selfish and callous. It was as true in the days of Bela Lugosi creating exploding spiders as it is in the days of millionaires destroying our environment for another million they won’t even realize they have.

The movie makes us face the consequences of this again when the ventilation system to the dinosaur holding area is contaminated with poison. The choice has to be made all over again: Do we let them die or save them? This time the choice falls to our heroes. The deaths of those animals will be on their hands, as will any people who die as a result of letting those dinosaurs out. It’s a no-win situation for a person with a good heart, and we feel every second of it as the camera focuses on the dinosaurs starting to suffocate to death and fighting desperately against the door holding them in.   Which do you choose?

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In this case, the question is resolved twice. Both answers, though opposites, are legitimate because, in the world we live in now, we have to accept that there are no easy answers and that seemingly directly opposed ideas both have merit.

Answers are not black and white. They’re as complex as the problems that created them and humans need to face that in order to move forward.   Otherwise we will be stuck in that Old Dark House, bedridden like Lockwood, stubbornly refusing to see our assistant twisting the beauty and wonder we create because it will make our lives hard.

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On the surface, the Jeff Goldblum’s cameo as Dr. Malcolm is gratuitous fan service, but listening to Malcolm’s testimony before the senate is to be given a dire warning that is as true in a world without dinosaurs as it is in a world with dinosaurs.

Dismiss this movie as pure, sloppily written popcorn fare all you like. It crushed my soul as only a movie that speaks to the world I live in can. I never thought a movie with dinosaurs would make me soul sick and I give the creators of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom more credit and admiration than I can articulate for doing just that.

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The Ingrid Pitt Files: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum

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Welcome to another installment of The Ingrid Pitt Files! This week’s movie is a definite change of pace: 1966’s A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.

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One of the great things about working on this blog series is the sheer randomness of stuff I’ve been able to discover. Now, I admit, most of it I haven’t been fond of (see my Dr. Zhivago temper tantrum), but you still need to embrace learning something new.

I mention that because A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum is a movie I probably NEVER would have watched unless I had a reason. Well, I had a reason!

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The plot is pretty simple.   A family in ancient Rome lives next door to a whorehouse (like you do…), and the son falls in love with one of the women in said house. One of this family’s slaves promises to help the son get the girl if the son will grant him his freedom. The problem is, the slave is only mildly clever and the son is dumber than a box of sticks so wackiness ensues.

This movie is packed to the rafters with talent. Zero Mostel plays Pseudolus, the slave seeking his freedom. He reprised his role from Broadway and, while I’d never heard of him, I do know a lot of people think highly of him for one reason or another.   Michael Crawford plays the son, Hero.   On the British side of the pond he’s famous for the ridiculous amount of television he’s done. On the American side of the pond, and first and forever foremost in my heart, he was The Phantom in the first run of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Phantom of the Opera. I was also pleased to see Patricia Jessel, Domina the wife, who is known to genre fans as Mrs. Newless, the hotelkeeper in City of the Dead. We also have bit parts from the guy who played the cop in The House That Dripped Blood and, as always makes me happy, John Pertwee, known to me from The House That Dripped Blood, and known to the rest of the world as the Third Doctor.

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Of special note is Buster Keaton in his last film performance before he passed.

This is a musical composed by Stephen Sondheim, who also composed Into The Woods and Sweeney Todd. I hear a lot of people complaining that musicals are all schlocky romance stories written for women (they did an entire South Park episode about it!), but these people clearly are not familiar with the works of Sondheim. Despite being about fairy tales, Into The Woods is more about unrealistic attitudes toward romance and Sweeney Todd, a personal favorite of mine, is singing while people slit each other’s throats.

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A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum is the most direct proof that musicals aren’t just written for women. Because this musical was written for guys. The humor is exceptionally broad and mostly involves guys being horny while looking at hookers.

Honestly, the film is an hour and a half long Benny Hill skit, so it did not work for me. The only parts I really laughed were the Buster Keaton parts, in particular the soothsayer scene.

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The movie is something to look at, as it is heavy on spectacle. Even though they set it in the lower class areas of Roman life, it is still pretty sumptuous. I especially liked the inside of the whorehouse. The use of color was amazing.

I have to say, however, that as a musical it failed pretty miserably. Musicals were no longer in vogue when this came out so they pared down the amount of songs (which explains a lot because I was watching the movie thinking, “there have to be more songs then this”), but the songs they used were really awkwardly forced into the movie. None of them seemed to flow naturally from the situation as they should in a musical. In particular “Everybody Ought To Have A Maid” was really egregiously shoe horned in to the point where it should have just been taken out. The director, Richard Lester, already had two Beatles movies under his belt so that makes the mishandling of the musical numbers really confusing to me.

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Ingrid was apparently one of the *ahem* courtesans in the movie, but I never saw her. I knew what to look for, since a picture of her in this movie is extremely easy to find and I figured it would be easy, but I just couldn’t find her.

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So, there’s that movie watched. Luckily I’m steadily moving into the period where I can actually SEE Ingrid in stuff.

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The Ingrid Pitt Files: Where Eagles Dare

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Welcome back to the Ingrid Pitt Files. Our movie this week is actually pretty well known to people who are not genre fans:   1968’s Where Eagles Dare.

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Now, this movie had two strikes against it for me before I even watched it. I like my history old, and I have no interest in World War II. Second, I really, really don’t like war movies. I can’t handle them. Horror movies aren’t real. Those things don’t happen. War movies may not always be based on true events, but they all have things that could feasibly have happened. I can’t handle that kind of suffering. I can’t even make it through a single episode of Band of Brothers or The Pacific without crying like a little girl with gum stuck in her hair. You’d probably never get me to leave the house again if I had to sit through Saving Private Ryan. (For the record, I actually did cry quite a bit during Wonder Woman.)

But I read the synopsis for this movie and I thought it might be okay. It didn’t seem like it was that heavy, so I watched it.

OH MY GOD THIS MOVIE IS GREAT!!!!

It leans much more toward the action/adventure side of things, and I am sucker for adventure movies, so I enjoyed it immensely.

I am going to limit spoilers for once, because if you have not seen this movie, you need to and I don’t want to ruin it for you. But the movie basically goes like this…

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A group of British soldiers, led by Major Smith (Richard Burton) and accompanied by a single American Ranger, Lieutenant Schaffer (Clint Eastwood, young but already squinting and scowling stolidly), parachute into Bavaria in an attempt to save an American General who crash landed near Schloss Adler, a fortress that is damn near impossible to get into. The General was taken to the castle to be interrogated by German High Command, as he is responsible for making plans for the Western Front offensive.

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There’s a short break for exposition at the beginning, but really, the movie just starts right in on the action. It also starts right in on the twisty-turny plot. We’re not more than 15 minutes into a 2 1/2 hour movie when we’ve already encountered a couple events that make you realize that not everything is as it seems.

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The group makes it to the village at the base of Schloss Adler, and at the tavern Smith makes contact with Heidi, played by our girl, Ingrid Pitt, in the scene where she utters one of the most famous lines in the movie, “I bet you have a beautiful singing voice too.” Heidi is a spy that’s been in Bavaria for awhile and she is asked to help Mary Ellison (Mary Ure) get into the castle as a servant. Mary has been secretly brought into the mission by Smith for reasons we don’t quite know until the end.

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This movie is solid all around. The performances are good, the direction is good, the writing is sharp and witty in an almost James Bond kind of way. Burton is impossibly cool, despite this movie being during his downward slide. I really can’t imagine anyone else pulling off the role.   Anyone else staring at Ingrid’s chest for a really long moment before saying “and what a disguise,” and I would have sniffed and looked away. I guess I’m just a sucker for Burton because I laughed when he said it.   Really hard.

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If anything, it might be a bit too long. Some of the action sequences can drag, and for a movie that long, they needed more music.   The main motif popped up a little too often and got grating.

Of what I’ve seen so far, this is one of my favorite Ingrid performances, even though she’s not in it all that much. I wish she had had the chance to do more films like this. She is composed and cool and exudes being in control at all times.   If you watch her, even in the background, she has the eyes of hawk and Heidi is taking in every little thing going on around her, which is exactly what you’d expect from a spy.

Ingrid spent part of her childhood in a concentration camp and admitted having trouble with this role because of all the men in Nazi uniforms and that might have unintentionally helped her as Heidi because she was extremely weary the whole time.  Not all of it may have been acting, but all of it fit for her character.

And I really can’t get through this film without giggling when I remember that Ingrid once claimed she’d given Clint Eastwood the best night of his life during filming.

That’s Ingrid, ever the shy flower…

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This movie also gets some points for making baby steps toward being not sexist. I mean, it is still sexist (how many times did Mary and Smith boink? In just a couple minutes when they were supposed to be doing something for the mission? And it didn’t even make sense in the plot, there was just this moment of “we have to show that he’s a virile man so we’re gonna suggest they had sex and go back to blowing stuff up”), but the two women were also integral parts of the mission and (okay, I’m gonna spoil this) they were both above suspicion the entire movie, never once threatening to fall into femme fatale mode. Also, the extended sequence of Mary with the machine gun at the end basically makes up for the unnecessary boinking.

It’s actually that scene that makes me wish Ingrid and Mary had switched roles. Mary was quite good, but on the other hand, I feel like Ingrid with a machine gun is the feminist icon we need but never got.

Anyway, if you haven’t seen this movie, watch it. And don’t put it on in the background. You have to pay attention and you have to pay attention to the whole movie. All of it. Because it gets you right up until the end.

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The Ingrid Pitt Files: Ironside

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And we’re back again with the Ingrid Pitt files and another learning experience for me!

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Ingrid was in an episode of the 60’s cop show Ironside, starring Raymond Burr. It was the fifteenth episode of the first season called “The Fourteenth Runner” and it aired on 28 December 1967 (there is another first season episode called “Memory of an Ice Cream Stick” which I find extremely funny for some reason but that doesn’t have anything to do with anything).

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This is the only episode I’ve seen and will likely ever see, cop shows just aren’t my thing anymore, but Burr’s character, Robert Ironside was a cop who got shot and paralyzed and now is a cop in a wheelchair and that seems to be the gimmick. Not a bad gimmick, I think, especially since it means that people aren’t constantly shooting each other up and there is more mystery solving stuff going on.

I have to be honest, one of the nerd things that got me most excited was the fact that the series was created by Collier Young who not only wrote the screenplay for Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker, but also did some work on one of my all time favorite shows, One Step Beyond, starring John Newland.

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In this episode, a Soviet marathon runner in San Francisco disappears in the middle of running a race.   Ironside and his team, I learn, are special investigators who work just outside of the police. That’s why he’s given this case. It ends up being a nasty tangle of Cold War tensions, stereotypical shady Soviet agents (which led me to a nostalgic sigh. They just don’t make two-dimensional, they’re-unconditionally-bad-because-of-where-they’re-from villains like that anymore. That’s really a good thing though. The Commies were special though), two-faced American agents and a whole lotta “who really wants what and what would they do to get it?”

I actually think this was a very good story and I wish it had had the chance to play out over two or maybe even three episodes.

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The story ends up hinging on the runner’s girlfriend, Irene Novas (the first name is pronounced Irina, and I don’t know why they didn’t just spell it like that) a Hungarian Olympic athlete who defected, played by our Ingrid.

Now, this episode actually came out before The Vampire Lovers, which I covered last week, which makes this episode a little weird for me.

In this episode, she has to play vulnerable and she actually pulls it off. Well, kinda. In normal scenes where she’s just talking to people she’s good and believable as a woman worried about her boyfriend. There is a scene where she has to read what is his apparent suicide note that Ingrid totally hams it up and I admit I snickered a little. For most of the episode though, she is really just a damsel in distress and it doesn’t take much acting ability to let shady Russians grab you by the arm and drag you off. That was also weird for me because I’m not used to seeing Ingrid as a damsel in distress. It’s rather unbecoming on her and she spends the last part of the episode looking kinda bored while she tries to look worried.

This episode also had Ed Asner as a shady American operative of some sort (he’s a regular character, I think, so there’s probably something to that I’m missing), and John Van Dreelen as my “hey! That guy!” moment for this episode.

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In addition to being the mostly silent shady Soviet who stood there and looking down on everyone in this episode, if you’ve seen any TV between roughly 1959 and 1992 there’s a good chance you’ve seen him. He was in, like, everything; Airwolf, Dynasty, Knight Rider, Wonder Woman, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. Genre fans would know him from “The Jeopardy Room” episode of The Twilight Zone, as Van Allen in William Castle’s 13 Ghosts, and Garvay, the white hunter in The Leech Woman.

Now, I do have to say there was a little weirdness for this episode. Ironside solving the mystery actually involved, as a piece of evidence, the fact that the runner was dying his skin to pass as a Latino. So, the actor was in brown face for a good chunk of the episode. Now, this is offensive, but what’s more, it was in no way, shape, or form convincing.   I mean, it looked baaaaaaaaaaaaaaad.   Like, fire your make up person, bad.

Also the writing hits a really weird stumbling block toward the end, when Ironside and his team are trying to stop the Russians from dragging the runner back to Russia. It involves a funeral for a dignitary from a made up, but vaguely Spanish sounding, country. Ironside is following the Russians who go to this funeral, where people are dancing and drumming in a way that the writer clearly intended to look foreign without having to do any research into what another country’s funeral customs would actually look like (and I’m pretty sure the main guy was wearing a coat with raccoon tails on it). After that ends, the Russians try to leave when Ironside stops them and they have a conversation about “collecting unique funeral services.”   I actually had to rewind the scene and watch it again because I could not believe that it was a conversation that was actually being had. “Collecting unique funeral services” sounds like a phrase that would happen in my head, and it’s not really a good thing when people verbalize the phrases that are in my head, you know?

Just sayin’.

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The Ingrid Pitt Files: The Vampire Lovers

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All right! We are back talking about that most glorious of the stars in the night sky of horror cinema, Ingrid Pitt!

And this time around, I bring the goods. Behold!   The Vampire Lovers!

Now, I’m gonna assume that most people reading this are like me and first discovered Ingrid when she had fangs of some sort. This wasn’t the first Ingrid for me, and I can’t wait to talk about that one, but this is a great place to start.

Now I’m gonna talk this movie into the ground and there will be spoilers. Quite a bit has been made of this movie and I have opinions.   Let’s start at the beginning.

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We’re in Austria and a dude named Hartog is in a castle telling us about his dead sister and the creatures who killed her. The castle is decrepit and obviously abandoned, so it’s no surprise when the fog thickens and a figure draped in a shroud emerges. Hartog knows that these creatures can’t sleep during the day if they don’t have their burial shroud so he has taken this thing’s shroud and uses it to lure the creature to him. Once he’s facing it, we see that it’s a beautiful woman. She approaches and we have a nice close up of her tits (because that’s what this film is about) as the cross Hartog is wearing touches them and she flips out, fangs bear. He grabs her hair and cuts her head off.

Cut to a ball at the estate of General Spielsdorf (a gratuitously cast Peter Cushing, though I’d be much happier with the world if Peter Cushing has been gratuitously cast in everything). The Countess (the gloriously cast Dawn Addams) shows up with her daughter, Marcilla (our girl Ingrid). As soon as Marcilla enters everyone is looking at her (because duh) but she is looking at Laura (Pippa Steel), the General’s niece and ward. The Countess then pleads hardship, she has to leave, like, NOW, would the General be so good as to take care of Marcilla for awhile? The General agrees.

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Things go downhill from there. The Countess never comes back for her daughter and Laura slowly sickens as she has a series of nightmares about being attacked by a large cat. She dies and Marcilla disappears. The General knows Marcilla is responsible and immediately leaves to find Hartog.

Soon after, Morton and his daughter Emma (George Cole and Madeline Smith) are riding in the forest when they see a carriage have an accident. Out steps The Countess, claiming hardship. She has to keep going, but her niece, Carmilla (Ingrid again for those who haven’t guessed), is so unwell, would Morton be so good as to take care of her until the Countess sends for her? Apparently this was a thing you did in Austria back in the day because Morton doesn’t hesitate to say yes. The Morton household has two women in it, Emma and her tutor Madamoiselle Perrodot (Kate O’Mara). Carmilla comes on pretty strong with Emma, and we watch Carmilla seduce her, which was just glossed over with Laura. This involves Ingrid being nude a lot and a solid familiarity with Madeline Smith’s breasts as well. As Emma sickens, Carmilla sets her sights on Perrodot as well. We don’t actually see much of that since, while Kate O’Mara is a good looking woman, she doesn’t have that saccharine innocence that Smith does.

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Renton (Harvey Hall), the Morton’s butler, knows something bad is happening, but wrongly places it on the shoulders of Perrodot, who has been become very domineering while being manipulated by Carmilla. He goes behind her back and calls the doctor after a bartender warns him about vampirism.   The doctor recognizes the bites on Emma as those he saw on Laura and agrees with the precautions against vampirism Renton has taken (garlic flowers, crosses, y’all know the drill). Renton has secretly sent for Morton as well.   But Carmilla, knowing that her time in the Morton house is running out, seduces Renton and gets him to reverse all his precautions (by this point I felt really sorry for Gretchen the servant girl. Just give her one set of directions to follow and stop yelling at her!). She grabs Emma, meaning to take her away but is interrupted by an equally sick Perrodot pleading with Carmilla to take her as well. Carmilla stops to kill her and the interruption costs her the time she had to get away. The keeper of the General’s estate (who also happened to be in love with Laura, useless subplot) shows up and attacks Carmilla, causing her to disappear.

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While this has been going on, Hartog, the General and Morton (heretofore known as “the group of old dudes”) are at the rundown castle, which we now know to be Castle Karnstein, searching for the tomb of Mircalla (Marcilla/Carmilla/Mircalla – see what they did there? Clever!) to find her burial shroud. Truth to tell, I literally just finished watching the movie and I can’t remember if they found it or not, but whether they did or not Carmilla ends up in her coffin after having run back to the castle. The General claims right of revenge, stakes her, cuts her head off and that’s that.

A lot has been made of this movie for a couple reasons. One of them is the blatant lesbianism. Another is the sheer amount of boobs and blood in this movie.

I’m going to discuss the latter first and everyone reading needs to be aware that I am female and that informs my opinion of this movie A LOT.

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I like this film. I actually really do. But it, and the resulting Karnstein Trilogy, represent everything that is wrong with Hammer in the 70’s and why the studio ended up shuttering. I have never hid my dislike of 70’s Hammer. Hammer Studios could have trademarked the concept of boobs and blood as far as I’m concerned. But in the 50’s and 60’s, they skirted the line. They skirted the line in a way that fed the story and added the required romance to their Gothic fare. Sometimes, this was done out of necessity, to avoid censorship, possibly even for budgetary reasons from time to time.

Hammer started the 70’s with Taste The Blood Of Dracula, which amped up the boobs, but didn’t go too far. I haven’t seen Scars of Dracula yet, so that one may be skeezy, but it can’t be as skeezy as The Vampire Lovers, because with this movie, Hammer crossed the line they’d been skirting so far they were suddenly skirting the line of porno.   This led to a movie with a great deal of potential being actually kinda gross.

I’m going to jump to the other reason people talk about this movie because my discussion of that ties in with what I’ve already said.

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I sincerely hope lesbians do not watch this movie looking for something understanding of their sexuality. I hope they don’t look to this movie seeking empowerment of any kind. This movie has an extremely negative view of lesbianism as only viewing women’s sexuality through the lense of religion can create. Carmilla embraces her sexuality (as the way she expresses her vampirism) but she doesn’t understand it. Her sexuality is perverse and it destroys people. It pulls impressionable young girls away from father, uncle and lover and kills them. Carmilla is childlike in the way she expresses herself, meaning she lacks the maturity to understand that she is taking the girls away from the pure, right-thinking men in their lives. Carmilla must be destroyed and the men must be the ones to do it because the women are too weak and fall for Carmilla irresistibly.

But not before we get a bunch of scenes of women making out and biting each other on the tits.

This is where we get to the crux of the problem with this movie: It was made by and for the male gaze. The male gaze, which allows the double standard of giving men enjoyment by letting them watching the naughtiness, and then the enjoyment of being the ones to put the world right by destroying that naughtiness and keeping women in their submissive place.

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The problem with this movie, and all the 70’s Hammer and in particular the Karnstein Trilogy (I’m not gonna lie, they are among the very, very few Hammer films I actively hate and you will not hear me say a good word about the other two), is not the boobs and blood, it’s that what little respect the studio harbored for its female characters fled in anguish after seeing the script for this movie.

When I think of women in Hammer films, the first thing that always jumps to mind is Hazel Court in Curse of Frankenstein. Now, make no mistake, she was still the chick in the movie so she screamed and fainted and got carried off by the monster, but she was also bold and assertive and when The Baron told her not to do something she did it anyway. It’s the typical meddling women, but it’s also a woman who was trying to be part of her husband’s life when in any other movie, the women in her position would have been sitting on the settee weeping.   Hammer had a way of casting authoritative women in roles that were pretty stereotypical, but also had a strong edge to them, something Universal never did (even Countess Marya in Dracula’s Daughter was the victim even though she was the title freaking character).

That was noticeably different in Taste the Blood of Dracula, and by The Vampire Lovers it’s done a complete 180, just giving up the effort and giving in to the skeez.

The Karnstein Trilogy, in different hands, could have been a towering monument to female and lesbian empowerment expressed with fangs. Instead, it was yet another example of men having their cake and putting a stake in it too.

Okay, I’m gonna get off the soapbox and talk about the film itself and not all the conceptual stuff now.

Roy Ward Baker directed this and that is fairly obvious. It is a well directed film. And, he was very good at framing the intimate scenes. I didn’t care much for the dream sequences though.   Those were a little weird.

The art direction was lackluster for a Hammer film though. Some guy who reviewed it for the New York Times said it was opulently staged and I had to do a double take. That is opulent? Wait until that guy sees Kiss of the Vampire, or Captain Clegg, or Phantom of the Opera. His mind will be BLOWN!

However, there is some good use of color in this film, in particular, of course, red. You’ll notice that in the second part of the film, the part that focuses on Laura, the sicker she gets, the more red velvet pops up in her room. And of course we have to comment on the ball sequence, the first and best use of color in the movie.   Everyone, with the exception of the General, wears a drag color that blends in while they dance. There’s a gold lame dress in there and you can barely tell. Then The Countess arrives in black velvet and beside her Carmilla in blood red. Suddenly we have a focal point, and when Carmilla is dancing, you can find her anywhere in crowd (a similar trick was used in the ball scene of The Fearless Vampire Killers a few years earlier, though I can’t say if that inspired this). Likewise, as the film progresses, everyone tends to wear drab colors, except Carmilla who is always wearing something vibrant: Aqua blue, lime green, navy blue and, of course, that rather well known white nighty.

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But that is about the extent of compliment I can give to the costume department. I would bet money that guy has never had to dress women before.   The lack of imagination is really really disappointing. The General’s uniform is super spangly and has all the fancy bits and bobs on it and all the women in the movie wear the same damn dress. It’s the same pattern with just a bit of lace here and there or a pattern that is monochrome and you can’t actually see it anyway. Oh! The Countess’s dress at the ball scene as TRIM! She must be rich!

Also, that discussion about how Emma needs to take off her bodice because the dress won’t fit right with a bodice. Yeah, a bunch of dudes wrote that. I’ve worn those dresses. If you wear them without a bodice you’re taking your modesty (and possibly your back muscles) into your own hands.

Okay, I just looked up Brian Cox, the guy who did the wardrobes, and he is also responsible for the costumes in Dr. Phibes Rises Again, which means he’s responsible for the drop in quality of Vulnavia’s costumes too! Now I really hate this guy.

Anyway, there were actors in this movie so lets talk about them.

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Peter Cushing is Peter Cushing he was great in this (beer bottle breaks against counter. “Say otherwise! I dare you!”) and I actually rather liked Douglas Wilmer as Hartog.   He perfectly manifested that dead eyed, “I’ve seen too much and done bad things for a good reason but that doesn’t make it okay I hope to God you’re never me” look. I really felt sorry for him and he ever told me what to do to kill a vampire, I’d sure as shit listen. I feel like the other men were really just kind of throw away characters, so they were good enough, really.

Kate O’Mara didn’t have much to do, but she was good. Again, this movie was about women being victims and it doesn’t take much ability to lay in bed, writhe and whine.

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That’s where we come to the sticking point in this movie for me. Now, I mean no disrespect, but I really dislike the way Hammer used Madeline Smith in every movie they cast her in. This one included. She’s very pretty, but she’s pretty in this big-eyes anime character, angelic way that means no writer ever thought to put any depth to her characters, they only thought to have her blink a lot, pucker her lips and be cheese-grater-on-my-last-good-nerve naieve. I’m sure Miss Smith is a wonderful woman, I have heard that she isn’t exactly pleased with her time at Hammer and I completely understand why. Every Hammer film I’ve seen her in, I want to slap her character. The Vampire Lovers is no exception.

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Now, lets talk about Ingrid. Ingrid struggled a bit here.   As much as I adore her, she has certain things she does well (which you will hear me gush about copiously when we discuss Countess Dracula), but her range isn’t that great. Ingrid has a certain power behind her performances, which means when she tries to play vulnerable, it almost feels like she doesn’t know what she’s doing. She actually has to play vulnerable here quite a bit. The character of Carmilla is a tragic figure who just wants to love and be loved and doesn’t understand why that doesn’t work. When Ingrid tries to convey that vulnerability, it feels off and makes it all the more jarring when she flies into a rage.

The thing is, that actually kinda works for the character. It gives Carmilla a kind of wild, childlike, “I don’t know what I’m feel or how to express it but I’m FEELING!” edge that makes the character even more dangerous. Children don’t know that their actions can break things and don’t always understand what happened when their actions do break things, which makes Carmilla’s little meltdowns and the need to be coddled by her victims make sense.

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And this might be the explanation for an intriguing plot hole in the movie.

The Karnsteins have been destroyed except for Mircalla. So who is the Countess and The Man In Black that follows them around on the horse?   We don’t know about the Countess, but The Man In Black is clearly a vampire, we see fangs. It seems they have a well adapted system of dumping Mircalla off in places so she can feed and then collecting her when she’s done to do it all over again.

My theory is this:   Mircalla was born into eastern European nobility, so she probably grew up being coddled and told she could do whatever cruel, nasty thing she wanted. She also seems to have grown up emotionally stunted, either because of a mental disorder or bad parenting, which means she couldn’t be left to fend for herself. She’s too unstable and would get caught. What if the Karnsteins had friends who were vampires or possibly even family abroad when Hartog did his deed? What if they came back and found Mircalla alone and realized they had to take care of her and this movie is them doing that? This would fit snugly into an expansion of the Karnstein world suggested by Captain Kronos.

A few little tweaks and this movie could have been truly great, and it is one of my biggest Hammer regrets that they played it off for the skeez. That’s and the rest of the 70’s.

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