The Blood Beast Terror 1968 ***

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Also known as The Vampire Beast Craves Blood, Blood Beast From Hell and Deathshead Vampire, Vernon Sewell’s horror/thriller really couldn’t find the right title for this novel twist on traditional themes. But any film that features both Peter Cushing and special effects by a pre-Alien Roger Dicken deserves a fresh appraisal, and there’s quite a lot to suggest that Sewell’s film is a neglected genre piece.

This is a Tony Tenser/Tigon production, made during the peak of Hammer’s success, and it’s clear that they hoped to find a few franchise-friendly monsters to rival the other studio. So what is the blood beast? Well, it’s a kind of moth, or perhaps a were-moth might be more accurate, since it can take human form; Curse of the Were-Moth presumably tested badly, so Blood Beast Terror it was.

Tigon also took cues from Hammer in terms of casting and approach. Peter Cushing is a name that will always draw genre fans. He was a distinguished and gentle soul who seems to glide around in these films, always polite, even when playing madmen; during the heat-wave scenes here, he never loosens his cravat. He’s ideally suited to Sewell’s production, which is big on drawing room conversations, entomology lectures and the details of coach and horse travel; the setting is the 19th century, but it could easily be the 14th. Cushing plays Detective Inspector Quennell of Scotland Yard, who is trying to solve the murders of several young men. Could Carl Mallinger (Robert Flemyng) and his daughter hold the secret?

There’s some British comedy stalwarts in supporting roles, including Minder’s Glynn Edwards as a cop and Roy Hudd re-invigorating the cliché of the post-mortem medic who loves to eat on the job. An additional point of interest in the female were-moth, played by Benedict Cumberbatch’s mother, Wanda Ventham. It’s not easy for an actress playing a were-moth, but she gives it a good shot.

Cushing reputedly wasn’t wowed by the result, but there’s quite a lot of fun here, notably the beast in a chrysalis form thanks to Dicken. And there’s also an extended theatre-play within a film that features medical students performing a version of Burke and Hare. It seems pointedly aimed at making fun of the Hammer brand, and stops the action in its tracks for a good ten minutes. But the cardboard set, unconscious humour and stilted acting are all on-message with The Blood Beast Terror’s playful genre reconstruction; its another nice find on the impressive Flick Vault channel.

The Current War 2017 ****

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The Current War has been on the shelf for two years now; specifically because it had been primed by Harvey Weinstein as an awards contender in 2017. It was unloved when screened at Toronto that year, but the negative buzz about the producer may have had something to do with that. The poster makes it look like The Prestige, but instead of competing magicians, it’s competing scientists, or rather inventors; Westinghouse, (Michael Shannon), Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Tesla (Nicolas Hoult). Unless you’re a master of physics and chemistry, some of the technical details escape you, but compensations are plentiful including two big performances from big actors, the elaborate and unfamiliar period details, and the pointed montages; there’s a great juxtaposition of the electrified world fair in Chicago and the first electrocution of a murderer in an electric chair. Tom Holland also has a decent role, as does Katherine Waterston; it’s a big prestige picture of the kind that used to be released for awards-season attention on Xmas day by Weinstein. Sold off as an asset to another company for a paltry $3 million, it’s unlikely to draw a massive crowd amongst the brainless summer blockbusters, but it’s an intelligent and interesting movie. For all the nay-sayers who complain that there’s no smart summer movies, The Current War is far from the stinker it’s history suggests. The film has been re-edited and new scenes added; this UK release is an attempt to gauge interest before a more (or less) expensive US release is mooted.

 

Doctor Strange ***

dr-strangeMarvel’s comic-book-to-movie machine throws out something different from the usual punch-ups with Doctor Strange, with action that takes place largely on astral planes and in mirror dimensions. While in essence a straightforward origin story (there’s not too many cameos from other franchises here) Scott Derrickson’s drama sees Benedict Cumberbatch’s self-absorbed neurosurgeon Steve Strange suffering from injuries after a car-smash, and playing his humble card before heading for Tibet and learning the art of mysticism. This training inevitably leads to conventional sky-line smashing showdowns in NYC and Hong Kong, but some of the build-up play is interesting. Tilda Swinton makes a horrible stab at playing a supposedly Eastern mystic (a line of dialogue hopefully suggests her origins as ‘Celtic’), and Cumberbatch is clearly a lot less comfortable here than when playing Sherlock or Hamlet; there’s only so many ways you can wave your arms about in from on blue screen psychedelic background. But the baroque trappings and off-kilter waves of effects keep the eye engaged.