An unusual slice of horror from 1967, The Sorcerers features writer director Michael Reeves coming up to date after his celebrated Witchfinder General with Vincent Price. Working with his regular co-writer Tom Baker, Reeves describes the aberrant behaviour of Professor Marcus Monserrat (Boris Karloff) who has developed powers of hypnosis that he experiments with on Mike Roscoe (Ian Ogilvy). But the involvement of the professor’s wife Estelle complicates matters, and the temptation of being able to experience and control Mike’s thoughts leads to carnage. Reeves died before he could do his best work, but The Sorcerers has much to recommend it, with a silly storyline played with admirable straightness, good performances, and a strong feel for swinging London. A young Susan George also appears.
Striking as the appearance of Boris Karloff in the original 1931 Frankenstein film is, the film itself is pretty hard going; the camera barely moves, and early scenes are like a filmed play, stiff as a board. Allowed to revisit his creation in 1935, James Whale’s sequel is a much jollier affair, with Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) goaded by rival Dr Pretorius (a rampant Ernest Thesiger) to create a mate in the iconic form of Elsa Lanchester. Whale plays things for dry but genuine laughs, and there’s fascinating special effects when Dr Pretorius unveils the tiny bottled creatures he’s been nurturing. A sequel that’s not cut from the same cloth as the original, The Bride of Frankenstein is probably an improvement.
Writer/director Mario Bava delivered a classic and surprisingly colourful portmanteau feature with these three tales from 1963; despite a low budget, they’ll all tightly wound and full of tension. The first, The Telephone, is a clear jumping-off point for the opening of Wes Craven’s Scream, as a woman is terrorised in her apartment by a series of knowing phone calls. Things jump up a north with The Wurdelak, in which an 1880’s rural family are terrorised by vampires, namely Gorca (Boris Karloff), the twist is that the vampires only come after those they love. Both are good value, but the third, A Drop of Water, is arguably one of the most frightening sequences ever filmed, as a woman spending the night in the same room as a corpse, makes the fatal mistake of stealing its ring. Based on a story by Dostoyevsky, A Drop Of Water is as intense and highly charged as anything in Bava’s illustrious career, and the whole package is an ideal selection of brief, to-the-point horror.
Writer/director Bill Condon skillfully adapts Christopher Bran’s novel about James Whale, the director of the 1931 version of Frankenstein and a classic Brit in Hollywood. Sir Ian McKellern plays Whale as a tortured soul, with a charming veneer barely covering his anxieties about The Great War, and seeking solace in a relationship with his gardener Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser). The delicacy of this story is balanced by plenty of evocations of cinema classics to please film buffs, as Elsa Lancaster (Rosalind Ayres), Colin Clive (Matt McKenzie) and Boris Karloff (Jack Betts) are all brought to life without the use of lightning, and the atmosphere of the expat community of 1930’s Hollywood is brought to life with considerable charm. Fraser and McKellern appear in so many daft movies that it’s a pleasure to see them with something serious to do, conveying the essence of a complex relationship between two men at a time when many viewed such love as something monstrous.
Peter Bogdonovich made his name with this terse, low-budget film for B-movie king Roger Corman. Boris Karloff plays Byron Orlock, an old-school horror actor who is basically a fictionalized version of Karloff. He’s caught in the cross-hairs of a sniper rifle wielded by Bobby Thompson (Tim O’Kelly), but the mild mannered shooter as a wealth of targets in his sights, killing his family and heading off on a sniper-spree that leads the two men to a confrontation at a drive-in screening one of Orlock’s movies. Ingeniously playing off Karloff’s considerable reputation, both as a horror icon and an off-screen nice guy, Bogdanovich’s film is celebrated for pitting old-Hollywood against new social unrest, and the taut nature of this 1968 thriller still resonates today.