Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula (1979, Harry Tampa)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The modern day (1979). We begin at Hotel Transylvania – ie, the former Castle Dracula. After half an hour, the action moves to New York City.

Faithful to the novel? This camp comedy has to be seen to be believed. A disco-scored horror film where Count Dracula (John Carradine) is a bitter geriatric and his granddaughter finds happiness through the power of dance? This was actually made?!
* As the story begins, Count Dracula’s granddaughter Nocturna (Nai Bonet) has converted their castle into a hotel to help him with his tax bill. She hires hip, young musicians to entertain the guests then sleeps with guitarist Jimmy (Tony Hamilton). She also takes a very slow bath so we can perv at her naked body, and has to resist the attentions of her creepy employee Theodore (Brother Theodore).
* Dracula senses that all’s not well, though. When Nocturna says she’s in love with Jimmy, her grandad reminds her that she’s not like other women. She shouldn’t settle for a normal life. She responds by leaving with Jimmy for New York City.
* She stays with an old friend, the vampire Jugulia (Yvonne De Carlo), in a rundown part of town and is introduced to the city’s undead community. But there’s dissention in the ranks due to a lack of available blood – “I’d rather suck than sniff any day,” says a female vampire when a friend suggests a powder blood substitute. Their meeting is interrupted by a cop, so they all turn into animated Batfink-style bats and fly away.
* Nocturna then walks through bustling Manhattan to the sound of disco music – you half expect John Travolta to be coming the other way. She encounters a black vampire (Sy Richardson) who’s dressed like every pimp in 1970s cinema. He shows Nocturna a massage parlour run for the benefit of vampires; its girls (referred to as slaves) are used to lure people in so they can be drained of blood.
* Next, Nocturna meets Jimmy at a nightclub called Star Ship, which is admirably full of punters for a low-budget film, and they wow everyone (except this reviewer) with their dancing.
* Meanwhile, Dracula and Theodore have shown up in America to find Nocturna. Theodore kidnaps her and is about to kill Jimmy when she escapes and attacks him. Dracula then confronts her at the disco. He wants her to return to Transylvania, but Jugulia dances with him as a distraction (!). He’s having none of it and freezes all the clubbers and threatens Jimmy’s life. So Nocturna agrees to come home.
* But Jimmy gives chase and wards off Dracula by using the T of the Star Ship sign as a crucifix. Drac heads home to Europe, while Nocturna and Jimmy watch the sunrise together. It seems a love of dance has cured her of vampirism. Or something.

Best performance: This was the final time that John Carradine played Count Dracula. He’d first taken on the role for two Universal horrors – House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945) – then appeared in unrelated films Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966) and Las vampiras (1969). He died in 1988. He’s overacting his heart out here, playing the Count as a doddery old man, but it’s quite endearing. “If I’m alive, what am I doing here?” he says when emerges from his coffin. “But on the other hand, if I’m dead, why do I have to wee-wee?” He’s wearing the same costume he used in House of Dracula.

Best bit: While out and about in Manhattan, Nocturna chats to a genuine passer-by who didn’t know he was being filmed.

Review: This *demented* movie is a kind of precursor of Xanadu (1980), though with vampires and nudity rather than roller skates and Gene Kelly. It was based on an idea by its star, Vietnamese belly dancer Nai Bonet, who also raised the cash to get it made. She plays Nocturna and gives a dreadfully flat, stoned-out performance. In fact, the acting is largely awful throughout, with only old hands Carradine and De Carlo able to pitch the comedy right. The best element is probably the disco soundtrack. Gloria Gaynor sings the theme tune, Love is Just a Heartbeat Away, and there are in-story performances by band Moment of Truth. The whole enterprise is high camp, so we shouldn’t take it too seriously – Dracula wears false fangs, New York vamps bicker over their blood supplies, and the plot regularly stands still so we can enjoy a full-length song. But this is a really awful film.

Two Claret Rooms out of 10

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016, Zack Snyder)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Eighteen months after Superman was revealed to the world, two local businessmen – secret vigilante Bruce Wayne and power-hungry Lex Luthor – independently decide to do something about him…

Good guys: This is a direct sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel, so returning from that film are Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill), Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and, in a dream sequence, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner). None of the actors is terrible, but the characters are so hollow they don’t get much to play. The headline newcomer is, of course, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck). He’s been fighting crime in Gotham City for 20 years, we’re told, though no one seems to have heard of his alter ego. The soulful and sombre Affleck is the one true success of the movie and the actor skillfully implies a complex life beyond the scripted scenes. At one point, Bruce bumps into and flirts with Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who’s over a hundred years old despite looking about 30. She’s a shadowy (ie, underwritten) presence in the story. The character is essentially just an in-film trailer for 2017’s Wonder Woman movie. We barely see her for the first 110 minutes then she takes part in the action climax. Gadot’s performance is certainly bland, but the material’s not there anyway. It’s a classic example of a movie thinking the way to make a female character strong is to have her be perfect, unflappable and never in any peril.

Bad guys: Jesse Eisenberg over-acts his wig off as an irritating and childish Lex Luthor. It feels like an actor who knows the script is garbage so is trying to lever it off the page. Lex has a very thin female PA who gets neither a personality nor much dialogue. We see the corpse of Man of Steel’s General Zod a few times. (Thankfully it’s been well preserved in the year and a half since he died.)

Other guys: Bruce’s friend/assistant is the droll Alfred (Jeremy Irons). Holly Hunter plays a Democratic Senator from Kentucky, June Finch, who’s heading up the investigation into Superman’s activities. Harry Lennix reprises his Man of Steel role as a whistle-blowing politician. The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan plays Bruce’s mum in flashbacks.

Best bits:
* The big action sequence near the start of the film. Cleverly, we begin in the timeframe of Man of Steel and see Superman and Zod’s city-bashing battle from a new point of view. Bruce Wayne leaps from a helicopter, jumps into a 4×4 and careers through Metropolis as skyscrapers fall around him. Once he’s out of the car, there’s a terrific shot of him running into a cloud of debris dust…
* Lois Lane and Perry White’s minor bickering over what sort of airline ticket she can buy for a story. (A very rare moment of naturalism, this.)
* Clark Kent meets Bruce Wayne. It’s a frosty chat at a cocktail party (“Daily Planet?” asks Bruce. “Do I own that one?”). Diana saunters past, dressed in red so she’ll pop out against the other partygoers, and there’s a nice touch when Clark can hear Bruce’s hidden earbud.
* During a post-apocalyptic dream sequence (FUCK KNOWS WHAT’S GOING ON HERE), there’s an impressive 53-second long take as a goggles-and-long-coat-wearing Batman fights dozens of bad guys.
* During a scene at the docks, we see a sign for Nicholson Terminal & Dock Company – surely a reference to Jack Nicholson and a much better Batman film.
* The build-up of tension before the explosion at the Senate hearing.
* Bruce finds a secret file on Diana. It contains a photograph of her taken in 1918 – ie, during events that will be seen in next year’s Wonder Woman movie. Star Trek actor Chris Pine is stood next to her.
* Lex pushes Lois off a skyscraper. (Add this to the list of people who fall from a great height in superhero films: Lois in Superman: The Movie and Superman IV, Gus in Superman III, the Joker in Batman, Selina in Batman Returns, Nygma’s boss in Batman Forever, Rachel in The Dark Knight, airplane passengers in Iron Man 3, Pepper Potts in Iron Man 3…)
* Batman sees the Kryptonian mutant ogre-type monster: “Oh, shit…”
* Wonder Woman shows up in her costume. Superman: “Is she with you?” Batman: “I thought she was with you.”

Review: After an opening flashback telling us – for the fourth time in eight Batman films – how Bruce Wayne was orphaned, we’re into a terrific action sequence. As the climactic fight from Man of Steel plays out above him, Bruce looks on in horror and it feels like this sequel is critiquing the earlier film’s disaster porn. In a sequence full of 9/11 imagery, Superman and Zod are bringing down skyscrapers, levelling city blocks and killing thousands of people… while new character Bruce Wayne is on the ground saving innocent lives. It seems like a comment on the shallowness of Man of Steel. It also smartly and economically sets up the Batman/Superman antagonism. However… All that work is soon wasted. A theme of vigilantism bubbles away, but never goes anywhere, while the action-heavy second half is just as guilty as Man of Steel for revelling in meaningless violence. Not only that but this film’s attempts at answering the critics of Man of Steel are laughable. As carnage begins in the city, there’s a woeful line of dialogue heard in a TV news report – “Thankfully the workday is over and the downtown core is nearly empty…” It’s petty sarcasm on the part of the filmmakers, like a child putting the least amount of effort possible into a chore. Just as risible is the ‘Martha moment’. The script spends *two hours* setting up an argument between Superman and Batman. Then every inch of that storytelling is made instantly irrelevant because the characters realise they have mothers with the same name. Seriously?! That’s your character arc?! So Bruce doesn’t care about all those deaths any more? He’s best friends with Superman now? And that’s just the most ridiculous of many flaws with the plotting… Mercenaries use branded bullets that will identify who they are… Someone in a collapsing building needs to be told to evacuate… It’s not clear if the public know who Batman is… A hotshot reporter has never heard of prominent industrialist Bruce Wayne… The US government holds an inquiry into an incident that happened in Kenya… Lex knows how to use an alien space ship to create a Middle Earth ogre… It’s a hopelessly muddled plot: all effect, no cause. And sadly there are plenty of other problems. For example, both Superman and Batman routinely *kill people*. This betrayal of the characters’ established myths is all the more saddening because Batman v Superman is part of a multi-film franchise akin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, the film fails to grasp why that series has been so successful. Marvel built its shared universe carefully and gradually, and gave each hero moments to shine before merging the storylines in interesting ways. This movie, though, feels like it has YouTube ads popping up at regular intervals: a dream sequence features a nonsensical cameo from the Flash; we see CCTV footage of obscure characters who are getting solo movies soon; and the final scenes are more about sequels than closure. But the worst thing about this travesty of a blockbuster is Zack Snyder. Almost every aspect of the film – scripting, acting, staging, design – is poorly directed. There’s a tiresome reliance on slow-motion for emphasis, a gloomy, grimy look to every action scene, a cigarette-stained colour palette, meaningless camera moves, an astonishing absence of wit, an adolescent view of the world, an ADHD attitude to character, and a bloated running time. We’re living through an era of superhero blockbusters. Some are good. Some are bad. This is ugly.

Two buckets of piss out of 10

Doctor Who: Journey into Terror (BBC1, 12 June 1965, Richard Martin)

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An occasional series where I watch and review works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: This is the fourth episode of The Chase, a six-part serial from Doctor Who’s second season. The regular characters – the Doctor (William Hartnell), Ian (William Russell), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Vicki (Maureen O’Brien) – are being pursued through time and space by the Daleks. This week, they seemingly end up in a haunted house…

Faithful to the novel? Count Dracula (Malcolm Rodgers) appears about six minutes in – he opens his mouth and a disembodied voice says his name. He has a cape and two fangs protruding over his lips. He then shows up again a few minutes later and gets zapped by the Daleks… though is unaffected. Also in the ‘haunted house’ are bats, Frankenstein’s monster and a grey-lady ghost woman who shouts “Unshriven!” The Doctor theorises that the TARDIS has landed in some kind of fantasy world created by the creative psyches of humanity. We viewers, however, get a Rosebud-style reveal: it’s actually a closed-down section of a theme park (‘Festival of Ghana 1996, Frankenstein’s House of Horrors, price $10’). Dracula was just a mechanical exhibit.

Best performance: William Russell knows what he’s doing, as ever.

Best bit: There isn’t one.

Review: Lines are fluffed, props are left in shot during the wrong scenes, cameras cast shadows onto actors, cues are missed. It’s a tiresomely sloppy piece of television. The Dracula-containing sequence makes up just the first 15 minutes of the episode.

Two phagocytes out of 10

Carry On England (1976)

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A new commander takes charge of a Second World War army camp and is shocked to discover it’s a mixed-sex outfit…

What’s it spoofing? The film is trading on the popularity of contemporary sitcoms such as Dad’s Army (1968-1977), MASH (1972-1983) and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (1974-1981), where a military organisation is made up of wisecracking soldiery and frustrated officers.

Funniest moment: Peter Jones’s brigadier keeps making weak puns then turning to his assistant expecting a complimentary laugh.

The Big 10:

* Kenneth Connor (16) plays Captain S. Melly. He’s trying his best, but the material’s just not there.

* Peter Butterworth (15) has little more than a cameo as Major Carstairs.

* Joan Sims (23) is given the underwritten role of Private Ffoukes Sharpe, which was originally offered to The Good Life’s Penelope Keith.

Notable others:

* Peter Jones, as mentioned, plays an army bigwig.

* Johnny Briggs – who was just about to join Coronation Street for a 30-year stint – appears as Melly’s driver.

* Windsor Davies is back from Carry On Behind to play Sergeant Major ‘Tiger’ Bloomer, a shouty character not a million barrack rooms away from his role in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.

* Patrick Mower, now of Emmerdale, is the de facto lead of the soldiers: Sergeant Len Able. It’s yet another attempt on the Carry On producers’ part to find a new Jim Dale.

* Judy Geeson plays Sergeant Tilly Willing. Geeson’s sister, Sally, had been in a couple of earlier Carry Ons.

* Jack Douglas plays Bombardier Ready (subtle surnames, aren’t they?) and does some more twitching.

* Melvyn Hayes – yet another It Ain’t Half Hot Mum star – plays Gunner Shorthouse.

* Diane Langton plays the ditzy and busty Alice Easy. The role was meant for Barbara Windsor.

* Patricia Franklin, in her fifth and final Carry On role, gets about three seconds on screen as a cook.

* Julian Holloway appears in a Carry On one last time, playing Major Butcher, the camp’s doctor.

Top totty: As strange as it feels to say – given that she now plays a granny in Hollyoaks – but Diane Langton’s quite cute.

Alternative version: The original edit of Carry On England – which I watched for this review – ran into trouble with the BBFC due to a scene of topless women and a gag punning on the word Fokker. So the cut released in 1976 toned the former down and replaced the latter with a different joke. Both versions are included in the DVD box set, though the milder one is VHS-quality for some reason.

Review: This film proves why so many of the earlier Carry On movies are still popular today: despite their obvious failings, none is as horrendously unloveable as this garbage. There’s barely a single laugh in the whole thing, while none of the regiment make any real impression – they get the screen time but they’re all so forgettable. Add in nonsensical slapstick, lots of post-dubbed dialogue and tacky sound effects, and you get a grotty little film.

Two battledress trousers (that is all) out of 10

Carry On Christmas (TV special, ITV, 24 December 1973)

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A department-store Santa links various sketches about historical Christmases…

What’s it spoofing? Father Christmas, cavemen, 18th-century house parties, the First World War trenches, ballet and Robin Hood.

Funniest moment: Jack Douglas sings a song in the Sherwood Forest skit and for a moment you think the final line of a verse will end with ‘fuck’.

The cast:

* Sid James: Sid Belcher (Santa), Seed Pod, Sir Henry, Sergeant Ball and Robin Hood

* Joan Sims: Mother, Senna Pod, Bishop’s wife, Adelle, Salvation Army woman, Maid Marian and traffic warden

* Barbara Windsor: Virginia, Crompet, Lady Francis and Fifi

* Kenneth Connor: Shop manager, Anthro Pod, the Bishop, Private Parkin and Will Scarlett

* Bernard Bresslaw: Pea Pod, camp aristocrat, darts player, Captain Ffingburgh, Much and policeman

* Jack Douglas: Carol singer, Crapper, German soldier and ballad singer

* Peter Butterworth: Carol singer, old man, darts player, German soldier, Friar Tuck

* Laraine Humphreys: Bed customer

* Julian Holloway: Captain Rose

Top totty: Barbara Windsor.

Review: A final lame TV special. It’s full of atrocious jokes – some stolen from Carry On Cleo, Don’t Lose Your Head and Carry On Abroad. In a scene with Barbara Windsor playing a 13-year-old girl, it also contains comedy paedophilia. Flabby, forgettable and painfully unfunny.

Two fake beards out of 10

Carry On Again Christmas (TV special, ITV, 24 December 1970)

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Long John Silver, Jim Hawkins and others head for Treasure Island…

What’s it spoofing? Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883).

Funniest moment: Nipper the Flipper (Charles Hawtrey) wants to be the cabin boy. However, Silver says to him, “We’ve already got a cabin boy. You’ll have to be something else. How do you fancy the cook?” And Nipper replies, “Well, I’ll have to look at him first.”

The cast:

* Sid James: Long John Silver

* Kenneth Connor: Dr Livershake

* Charles Hawtrey: Old Blind Pew, Nightwatchman and Nipper the Flipper

* Terry Scott: Squire Treyhornay

* Bernard Bresslaw: Rollicky Bill

* Barbara Windsor: Jim Hawkins

* Wendy Richard: Kate

* Bob Todd: Ben Gunn and shipmate

Top totty: Barbara Windsor.

Review: Urgh. This tatty, bawdy TV special was a chore to sit through. It was made in black-and-white. Some sources claim this was to keep the budget down, but the recording date matches up with an ITV cameramen strike that also affected the first few episodes of Upstairs Downstairs. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t help. Neither does the decision to abandon the previous year’s sketch-show format and present one continuous – and very boring – story. The cast are trying to get mountainous laughs from molehill gags. They don’t succeed.

Two peg legs out of 10

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987, Sidney J Furie)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Lex Luthor creates a henchman called Nuclear Man – but can he defeat Superman?

Good guys: A final appearance as Clark Kent/Superman from Christopher Reeve. Despite this film’s phenomenal and fundamental failings – some of which must be laid at his door because he has a ‘Story by’ credit and was a de facto producer – he’s been superb. The best ever actor in the role, I’d say. At the story’s start, in a subplot that doesn’t go anywhere, Clark is selling the farm he grew up on but is wary of property developers (“We don’t need another shopping centre…”). When an earnest schoolboy who clearly needs to find a hobby asks Superman to rid the world of nuclear weapons, the Man of Steel feels guilt-tripped into doing it. His decision comes after an atrociously realised scene in which Clark jumps off a balcony while holding onto Lois Lane’s hand, then switches to Superman on the way down. It seems that putting her in fear of her life is preferable to just telling her his secret. He then collects all the nuclear weapons in the world (no, really) and puts them in a huge sack in space (I’m not making this up) and flings it into the sun. When Nuclear Man appears on the scene, Superman comes off second-best in their first fight and begins to artificially age. But after he fiddles with the last remaining Kryptonian crystal, he feels okay – so heads off to defeat his new enemy. Lois, meanwhile, is learning French for some reason so drops bits of the language into her dialogue. She’s on a subway train – clearly filmed on the London Underground! – when the driver has a heart attack and Superman has to save everyone. She learns Clark’s secret identity (again), but then forgets it after a kiss (again). Sadly, Margot Kidder is pretty poor. For whatever reason, she lacks the zip and confidence from the first couple of movies.

Bad guys: Gene Hackman is back as Lex Luthor, who’s in prison as we begin (he’s been given hard labour, it seems). After he escapes, he plots to clone his own version of Superman; after that plan fails, he ends up back in the same prison camp. Otis and Miss Teschmacher have vanished from his life, so as a sidekick Lex has roped in his nephew, Lenny. Jon Cryer (terrific as Duckie in Pretty in Pink, a bit annoying here) does what he can – loud outfit, crazy haircut, flash car, surfer-dude drawl – but the character doesn’t make much impact. Nuclear Man himself is played by Mark Pillow, though Hackman dubbed the dialogue (for some reason). According to one of the film’s writers, the original intention was for Reeve to double up to play Nuclear Man. That would have been more interesting, though maybe there was a worry of echoing the Clark vs Superman fight from the previous film.

Other guys: Back from earlier films are: Jackie Cooper as Perry White, who’s so annoyed by what’s happening to the Daily Planet that he organises a bank loan to buy a controlling stake in it; Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen, who stands around doing nothing in three scenes; and Susannah York in a voice-only cameo as Superman’s mum. Sam Wanamaker plays David Warfield, a tabloid tycoon who’s bought the Daily Planet and is, I guess, a parody of Rupert Murdoch. His daughter, Lacy (Mariel Hemingway), has big glasses, big shoulder pads and a big crush on Clark Kent. She isn’t the soulless business-bitch you first assume her to be and is one of the film’s few successes.

Best bits:

* Well, it’s not the tacky, cheap opening credits. (Tempting though it is to actually list all the film’s Worst Bits, I’ll stay positive from now on…)

* Clark returns to Smallville and the farm seen in film one. It’s a decent match, especially when you consider that Superman: The Movie filmed in Canada and Superman IV filmed in Hertfordshire.

* Clark hits a baseball into space.

* Lex refers to Lenny as the Dutch elm disease of his family tree.

* Lacy’s mock-up for a new-style Daily Planet: red logo, sensationalist headline, saucy photograph. It’s The Sun, basically.

* Lacy, casually: “All men like me. I’m very, very rich!”

* Oh, look: it’s Robert Beatty as the US President.

* Lacy reclines on her desk in an unsubtle attempt to flirt with Clark.

* Oh, look: it’s Porkins from Star Wars, Howard from Ever Decreasing Circles and Roy Slater from Only Fools and Horses as a trio of arms dealers.

* Clark at the gym, acting like a doofus.

* The six-minute sequence where Lois and Lacy go on a double date with Clark and Superman – so, of course, he has to keep finding excuses to leave and then come back in as the other persona. It’s good fun, but could do with being directed more briskly.

* Lex’s penthouse has some gorgeous Art Deco furnishings.

* Oh, look: in the deleted scenes available on the DVD, Clive Mantle from Casualty plays a prototype version of Nuclear Man (a character entirely cut from the film). I worked with Mantle once. Nice guy. We discussed talking books and agreed that people who buy the abridged versions are pussies.

Review: Abysmal. Boring. Cut-price. Depressing. Empty. Flawed. Gaudy. Hapless. Inept. Jumbled. Klutzy. Lobotomised. Moribund. Nasty. Odd. Perfunctory. Quizotic. Rubbish. Sloppy. Tatty. Useless. Vulgar. Witless. UneXciting. Yawnsome. Zzzzzzzzzzzz. I couldn’t improve on this assessment from Screen Junkies:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWNqbqcV4dU

Two strands of Superman’s hair out of 10.

Next time: Ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?