Monster Movie Mash – Part Five

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  • No matter how many horror movies you’ve seen, there is always one you missed. To celebrate Halloween this year, Team Unwinnable sought out the monster movies they haven’t seen to find out if they are as good as everyone says. In part one, Don Becker took on John Carpenter’s The Thing. For part two, Dave Trainer watched [REC], Olivia Davis saw Prince of Darkness and Erik Weinbrecht gawked at Freaks! Gabba Gabba Hey! In part three, we got undead as Michael Sheridan checked out White Zombie and Chuck Moran played in the Dead Snow. For part four, we called up some demons as Stu Horvath picked Pumpkinhead and Michael Edwards got through a Night of the Demons. For the final part we tackle vampires as Ken Lucas drains Lifeforce, Ian Gonzales buckles some swash with Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter and Tim Mucci meets a bloodsucker of a different sort in Cronos!

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    I recently got the chance to watch a movie that somehow slipped by me in the 80’s. Lifeforce – directed by Tobe Hooper, who is best known for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Eaten Alive and Poltergeist – is a sci-fi vampire zombie movie set in London.

    A shuttle crew investigates a derelict and somewhat phallic spaceship located at the head of Halley’s Comet. Once inside, they find three humanoids encased in crystal coffins and proceed to bring them back to Earth. What ensues is a cat-and-mouse game of tracking down the main she-vamp [Editor’s Note: The incredibly beautiful (and naked) Mathilda May] and trying to end her reign of terror before England is consumed by zombies.

    This movie has a little bit of everything and after viewing it I can now see its influence in movies like Species, Event Horizon and 28 Days Later. Steve Railsback (Ed Gein) plays Col. Tom Carlsen with the U.S. Air Force, the man who not only discovers the space vampires and unleashes them unto the world but also becomes one. Peter Firth (The Hunt For Red October) is Col. Colin Caine of the SAS, the hard-ass investigator that goes against the rules of horror and survives the whole film to help put an end to the madness. It also has an appearance by Patrick Stewart, who plays the head of an asylum for the criminally insane.

    While it is not the best movie in the world, it has some great themes and some decent effects. It suggests that the vampires of human lore were created by these space vampires. The vampires suck the literal life force of their victims instead of blood and turn their hosts into zombies. Only the original three vampires can also shapeshift, thus borrowing another page from past vampire incarnations.

    There aren’t a lot of gory scenes but the effects are well executed in a pre-CGI world. John Dykstra (Caddyshack, Spider-Man, Inglourious Basterds) created animatronic zombies, a faux Patrick Stewart that shoots blood from the eyes and mouth and one of the coolest life-sucking effects I’ve seen. Even the scenes at the end of the film depicting a collapsed London complete with hordes of zombies looked great.

    Add this cult classic to your holiday queue for a fun B-grade science fiction horror vampire zombie treat complete with nudity, British accents and a bloody Patrick Stewart!

    – Kenneth J. Lucas

    Lifeforce

    I’ve seen a lot of the Hammer Films catalog over the years. Horror of Dracula, The Devil Rides Out and The Curse of Frankenstein are some of my all-time favorite horror flicks. One would think I’d have seen Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter by now, right?

    Nope! Oddly enough, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter is one of those films I never got around to seeing. There’s no time like the present, so I’m going to go and watch it now. See you in 91 minutes!

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    OK, well, that was a lot different than I anticipated. While Hammer Films aren’t exactly known for skyrocketing budgets, this was one of the most thrifty Hammer productions I’ve ever seen. That’s not to say it’s bad, it’s just that I’ve seen a lot of these sets in other flicks before. I could swear that is the same “town square” in Plague of Zombies. Sure, that robe looks like it’s from Rasputin: The Mad Monk. Stock locations aside, Kronos makes good use of its surroundings and weaves a compelling tale with mystery, sex and swashbuckling swordplay.

    Horst Janson’s Kronos has more in common with Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood than he does Edward Van Sloan’s Van Helsing. Kronos is a man of action, battling his foes with his trusty sword. He relies on his loyal friend and adviser, the hunchbacked Professor Hieronymus Grost. Kronos is also not opposed to a literal roll in the hay with Caroline Munro’s gypsy girl, Carla (no Hammer Film is complete without an amply endowed gypsy bosom).

    The vampires in Kronos, while not sticking to the traditional rules of the vampire, are still pretty damn frightening. These vampires can go out in the daylight, mesmerize their victims and some can survive a stake through the heart! Indeed, what is most unsettling about the vampires of Captain Kronos is that in lieu of drinking their victims’ blood, these undead bastards steal their victims’ youth!

    What really sells this film is Janson’s performance. Captain Kronos oozes confidence throughout the film. He is one of the most confident, bordering on cocky, horror heroes I’ve ever seen. During the film’s finale, he brandishes his sword at the villain and declares, “This is God’s blade, forged for your black heart!”  That is moxie right there!

    Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter is a constantly surprising horror film. With its equal balance of action, scares and genuinely creepy vampire makeup, it’s a must-watch for your personal Halloween film festival. Don’t be like me and wait a million years to see it.

    – Ian Gonzales

    Captain Kronos

    Guillermo del Toro is perhaps most famous for movies like Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth – movies with a strong visual style and a broad view of the fantastic. One of his earlier movies (1993) is Cronos, an interesting take on the already well-told vampire story.

    The film opens with a short story about an alchemist who constructed a device that would allow him to live forever. 400 years later he is found dead in a vault collapse. The alchemist’s apartment is raided and, in a very macabre and chilling scene, we find out how the alchemist was able to stay alive for so long, for we see the bled-out body of a young man. The Cronos object is never found. Well, that is, until it ends up the curio shop of of old Jesus Gris, and it’s not long until the old man accidentally activates it.

    Apparently the alchemist found or created an insect that bestows a vampiric immortality to whatever it feeds off of, and imprisoned it in the device. Jesus initially welcomes the youth and vigor that the object bestows upon him until he realizes the price he must pay for this immortality – he now craves fresh human blood. Sick and wealthy industrialist Dieter de la Guardia is seeking the device and often sends his thuggish son, Angel, after Jesus to claim it.

    The scenes with Dieter, while visually interesting, were little more than window dressing and plot device; the real blood of the movie lies in Jesus’ transformation, and how he understands it and deals with it. As far as horror movies go, Cronos isn’t all that gruesome or scary; it’s shot and scored very much like a classic monster movie, much more so than any of del Toro’s other films, and has that same air of tragedy about it that the old classics used to.

    For a movie with only a few principal main actors and a budget of about $2 million, it very rarely felt small, due in large part to del Toro’s wide-angle visuals and lived-in scenery. In fact, one of del Toro’s main strengths is in convincing the viewers that they’re not watching a movie that is so obviously a movie. His set pieces are so intricate, and each scene tells a story beyond the main plot line that’s progressing in front of you.

    Visual horror in Cronos is scant; a body hanging upside down and bleeding into a series of dishes, the surge of roaches that pour from the hiding place of the Cronos device, Jesus manically itching his newly-bit hand, the scene in the morgue when the tech is sewing Jesus’ mouth shut, all great squirmy scenes. For me, though, the scene that gnarled me the most was when Jesus was at a New Year’s Eve party, when he first realized his taste for human blood and his eyes land on a partygoer who is suffering from a nosebleed. Jesus follows the partygoer into the bathroom and then proceeds to lick the blood up off the floor. UGH.

    Also, Jesus Gris, Gray Jesus? Good one, del Toro. I see what you did there.

    Cronos: Good monster flick if you’re into a more humanistic and quirky take. Here’s hoping that one day I see a Halloween costume of a white-haired vampire wearing his funeral suit backwards.

    – Tim Mucci

    Cronos

    Whatchu’ know about vampires? Compare notes with Ken on Twitter @UnWinToyHunter. Ian will be tweeting a lot about horror movies. Join the macabre fun and follow him @IanGonzales. Tim Mucci loves his monsters with heart. Follow him @TimX13.

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