Friday, June 15, 2012

Kiss of Dracula

THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (1963)
KISS OF EVIL (1966)
COUNTESS DRACULA (1971)

Isobel Black as Tania in THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE. Her first feature, the actress shifts effortlessly between beguiling and malevolence and, as Tim Lucas notes in his Video Watchdog review, "is never shown biting anyone out of hunger, but rather to indulge a childlike, yet severe, streak of sadism."

DON Sharp's THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE is a Hammer vampire film without Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee, but well worth investing your time. Shot with a colourful Gothic angle by Alan Hume, the film is set in an isolated area of Bavaria, 1910. Honeymoon couple the Harcourts - Gerald (Edward de Souza) and Marianne (Jennifer Daniel) - experience car trouble and are forced to stay in the unfortunately named Grand Hotel, whose only other guest is reclusive alcoholic Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans). Doctor Ravna (Noel Willman) - owner of the chateau that sits imposingly above the locale - invites them to dinner and their association with his seemingly charming family grow. When the pair attend a masked ball, however, they discover that Ravna is the head of a vampire cult. Zimmer performs a ceremony known as the Corpus Diabolo Levitum which forces "evil to destroy itself"; with the ritual taking the form of a swarm of vampire bats (apparently props purchased from Slough and Maidenhead branches of Woolworths), they smother Ravna and his gowned disciples.

THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE develops themes from Terence Fisher's magisterial BRIDES OF DRACULA. Teenage cult member Tania (Isobel Black) imitates Greta from the earlier film by trying to coax a newly buried initiate from the grave; Zimmer extrudes a bite similar to Cushing's branding iron scene; and Anthony Hinds' script also explores vampirism as a social disease/order. Additionally, there are direct transfers from dropped BRIDE sequences: Zimmer interrupting his own daughter's funeral to throw a spade through the coffin lid, and the climactic bat attack (a scene vetoed by Cushing on the grounds that Van Helsing would never evoke evil himself). But Sharp's film has attractions of its own, notably Black's performance: in one scene, Tania tears open the shirt of our hero, scoring her fingernails down his chest, upon which our quick-thinking leading man smears the blood in the form of a crucifix. Another memorable element has a hypnotised Marianne actually spitting in her husband's face.

Ingrid Pitt and Sandor Eles star in Hammer's dramatisation of the Elizabeth Bathory legend, COUNTESS DRACULA.

Released with the tag line "Shocking! - Horrifying! - Macabre!" THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE was less so when NBC acquired the film from Universal in 1966. Considered too brazen for television viewing as the film stood, most of the quirky erotica - and Zimmer's pre-credits shovel scene - was cut and replaced by specially shot footage in Los Angeles by Irving J. Moore, a director who would become synonymous with episodes of DALLAS and DYNASTY. Now titled KISS OF EVIL, these new, bland insertions - totalling around fifteen minutes to fill a two hour slot - tell of a local couple whose teenage daughter rebels when they attempt to prevent her attending the masked ball. The most interesting thing about the TV version is the casting: the mother is played by Virginia Gregg, who gained fame by voicing Mrs Bates in PSYCHO, while the daughter is portrayed by Sheilah Wells, once flatmate of Sharon Tate.

COUNTESS DRACULA is Hammer's pedestrian take on the legend of Elizabeth Báthory, a countess of Hungarian nobility who allegedly killed and bathed in the blood of young virgins to retain her beauty. Made by two Hungarian émigrés working in England: producer Alexander Paal and director Peter Sasdy, the film tells of Countess Elisabeth Nádasdy (a robust but dubbed Ingrid Pitt), who discovers that her youth and libido can be temporarily restored if she bathes in the blood of young, virgin women. Her steward and lover Captain Dobi (Nigel Green) kidnaps and murders local girls, whilst she pursues Imre Toth (Sandor Eles), a young solder. As a cover for her crimes while in her rejuvenated state she takes the identity of her own daughter, a plan that is complicated when her actual daughter Ilona (Lesley-Anne Down) returns home. Despite Báthory's blood-drenched legacy, the production is more historical drama/fairy tale, as Jeremy Paul's script focuses on the aging, widowed Countess. The handsome sets and costumes - inherited from ANNE OF A THOUSAND DAYS - give the film a splendid tableaux, but Sasdy's theme of the disintegrating family unit was much more successful in TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Mindscape of the Comic Gods

THE MINDSCAPE OF ALAN MOORE (2003)
GRANT MORRISON: TALKING WITH GODS (2010)

On his fortieth birthday, writer Alan Moore turned to magic.

DEZ Vylenz's THE MINDSCAPE OF ALAN MOORE consists of a seventy-eight minute monologue in which comic writer and magus Alan Moore talks about his life, career and beliefs from his sitting room. Vylenz illustrates Moore's profound words with comic images, recreations, animation and shots of Northampton, and with no testimonials from others, the documentary is an intimate yet dense affair. The subject evaluates changes in communication and fame - lamenting the one-hit wonders who burn out and feed the press - and also the importance of acknowledging self, at one point questioning if drugs, alcohol, TV et al are in fact desperate attempts to shy away from such responsibilities. Ultimately, Moore wallows towards a rudderless world driven by multiplying strands of information: "in the beginning was the word."

Moore has introduced human grime - yet high emotion - into the graphic medium. Grant Morrison - "the rock star of comics" - has created the opposite, celebrating superheroes and imposing a forceful sentientality. GRANT MORRISON: TALKING WITH GODS - directed by Patrick Meany, the author of Our Sentence is Up, which examined Morrison's The Invisibles - takes an in depth look at the mind of the man behind such pivotal titles as We3, Final Crisis and All Star Superman. Here, we have a more rounded piece than Vylenz's, as we are introduced to an array of writers, artists, and other eccentric characters from Morrison's world. An infinitely imaginative creator and explorer of consciousness, Morrison possesses a humbleness that keeps him from treading into pretentiousness. In an alarming sequence, Morrison reveals previously little known details about the origins of his ongoing feud with Moore: allegedly, Glasgow's infant terrible approached Northampton's most famous resident with permission to take over the Marvelman strip in Warrior, only to receive a Mafia-like missive.

Since assuming control over Batman in 2007, Grant Morrison has orchestrated the Caped Crusader's demise in Batman R.I.P., charted the exploits of replacements Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne in Batman & Robin, mapped the Return of Bruce Wayne, and developed the Dark Knight ethos globally in Batman Incorporated.

From his early years as an isolated youth to his anarchic adulthood, GRANT MORRISON: TALKING WITH GODS flows beautifully, as the subject recalls how circumstance have affected himself and his works. He tells of spying on missile silos as a boy with his father, and being brought out into the night by his mother, shown a distant star and told, with no explanation, that that is where his family came from. What is most amazing about Morrison is how he has harnessed all the chaos in his life and moulded it into productive, creative energy. Turning to magic at a young age in order to gain some sense of influence, Morrison was always open to unconventional ways of living. It was when Arkham Asylum became a breakthrough hit on the back of Tim Burton's BATMAN that he finally had the monetary means of exploring sex and drugs at every worldly stop (“to see how close I could get to the complete and systematic derangement of the senses.")

Warren Ellis - who contributes some hilarious anecdotes to the documentary - describes Morrison perfectly, as a pragmatist: he simply identifies the things that work for him, and continues using them. Critical and commercial triumphs have allowed him a flamboyant lifestyle of travel, substance experimentation, cross-dressing and fetishism (Morrison lovingly recalls the Silver Age Flash to sport "the best boots ever.") In his book Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero, Morrison states that the 1966 Flash story 'The Flash Stakes His Life on - You!' is seminal in his mindset of blurring borders between fiction and non-fiction. While he has been branded a space case in some circles, his well-documented eccentricities have added to a personal mystique that complements his impressive - if sometimes near-impenetrable - body of non-linear storytelling.