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Archive for the ‘The Horror of it All!’ Category

James Bond 007 Spy Movie Review: From Russia with Love (UK/USA, 1963)

Posted by Harbinger451 on October 13, 2022

From Russia with Love Movie Poster
From Russia with Love Movie Poster

The Horror of it All CategoryA Harbinger451 James Bond 007 Spy Movie Review:

From Russia with Love (UK/USA, 1963)

Tagline: The world’s masters of murder pull out all the stops to destroy Agent 007!
Content Rating: PG (originally A/12) – for mild sex and nudity, moderate violence, some smoking and alcohol use, some very mild profanity (hell x 2), and some intense and possibly disturbing scenes.
Director: Terence Young
Production Co: Eon Productions, distributed by United Artists.
Runtime: 1hr 55min.

In celebration of 60 years of James Bond in film, I decided to rewatch them all in order and review each of them. I’ll be including all 25 of the official Eon Productions Bond movies, 1962-2021, with the addition of one unofficial entry, Warner Brothers’ Never Say Never Again from 1983. Here I’ll be looking at From Russia with Love (1963). The second Eon Productions Bond movie, the second to be directed by Terence Young, and the second to star Sean Connery as James Bond, MI6 agent 007. Bernard Lee returns as M, the head of the British Secret Service MI6, Lois Maxwell returns as Miss Moneypenny, the secretary to M, and Eunice Gayson returns as Sylvia Trench, Bond’s semi-regular girlfriend. Desmond Llewelyn makes his first appearance as Major Boothroyd, the head of MI6’s Q-Branch (MI6’s Quartermaster’s Section), replacing Peter Burton. Llewwlyn would go on to play the role, later to be given the moniker of Q, in 16 further Bond movies.

This was the first film in the long running franchise to feature a pre-title sequence (PTS), something that would become one of the franchise’s essential elements. Unfortunately the PTS of this movie is a bit of a lame duck. Bond is apparently being stalked by an assassin through a maze-like ornamental garden at night, and indeed Bond is killed by said assassin. Only it isn’t Bond, it’s a SPECTRE agent disguised as Bond and the assassin is another SPECTRE agent, Donald “Red” Grant (Robert Shaw). The whole thing is an exercise putting Red through his paces. SPECTRE have decided that Bond must die, you see, after 007 killed their operative Dr. No in the first film, and Red is the man to do it.

Bond is about to be offed by Red ... or is he?
Bond is about to be offed by Red … or is he?

Dr. No (1962) had been such a success that United Artists doubled the budget for this, the second Bond movie, to $2 million. A good move, for it proved a massive success both critically and commercially, earning $78 million in box-office returns, thereby making it a blockbuster of 1960s cinema. UA also approved a $100,000 bonus for Sean Connery on top of his $54,000 salary. Connery was outfitted for this movie with eight specially tailored Saville Row suits, each one costing approximately $2,000.

Ian Fleming‘s 1957 novel From Russia, with Love was known to be one of President John F. Kennedy‘s favourite books, it was among his top ten, so after the US President had requested a private showing of the previous Bond at the White House, the producers decided to follow it up with an adaptation of that novel (though they dropped the comma from the title). Kennedy had a private showing of this film at the White House too, on the 20th of November 1963, it was the last such private showing before he was assassinated in Dallas only two days later.

The franchise's first glance of Blofeld... at least, of his hands... and his pet cat.
The franchise’s first glance of Blofeld… at least, of his hands… and his pet cat.

From Russia with Love is a very loose adaptation of the Fleming novel, however, with perhaps the biggest change being the insertion of SPECTRE in to the plot as the principle antagonists, replacing the Soviet undercover agency SMERSH (SMERt’ SHpiónam, “Death to spies”) so as to avoid any potentially controversial political overtones. In the film, SPECTRE (the SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion) attempt to pit the British and Russian agencies against each other by tricking Bond in to helping a duped Soviet Consulate clerk, Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi, dubbed by an uncredited Barbara Jefford), defect with a Lektor cryptography device from the Soviet consulate in Istanbul. SPECTRE then plans to kill Bond and take the Lektor device for themselves… oh, okay – good luck with that, SPECTRE.

After only being mentioned in passing in the first Bond movie, this film provides us with more than just a glance at the clandestine organisation called SPECTRE. We meet Ernst (Stavro) Blofeld its leader, or SPECTRE No. 1, for the first time … at least, we meet his hands and his pet cat, but not much else, and he’s only named in the credits. Blofeld is played by Anthony Dawson (credited as ?), who played Professor Dent in Dr. No, though he’s dubbed here by an equally uncredited Eric Pohlmann. We see a lot more of some of his underlings however. We have Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal), a Czechoslovak chess grandmaster and SPECTRE No.5; he comes up with the plan to entrap Bond and acquire the Lektor device. We have Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), a SMERSH colonel who’s actually SPECTRE No. 3; she deceives and grooms the unsuspecting Tatiana, oversees the mission, and selects Red to carry out the assassination of Bond. We also get a glimpse of SPECTRE island, where their agents undergo some very thorough training by the head henchman Morzeny (Walter Gotell).

Tatiana Romanova is tricked into thinking she'll be acting as a loyal Soviet by Rosa Klebb.
Tatiana Romanova is tricked into thinking she’ll be acting as a loyal Soviet by Rosa Klebb.

In London, MI6 receives notice that Tatiana Romanova wishes to defect over to the British and will bring the Soviet decoding device with her if MI6 agent James Bond comes and gets her and it out of the Russian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. M suspects a trap, but believing that forewarned is forearmed he agrees that Bond should go and get the girl and the gadget. Speaking of gadgets, this movie starts the franchise’s obsession with issuing Bond apparently random and often excessively outré gadgets that end up coming in very useful during his various missions. Here, Q gives Bond a special 00 attaché case, booby-trapped with a tear gas bomb primed to explode if opened incorrectly, probably one of the more realistic and broadly useful gadgets that Bond would ever receive. It contains a folding AR-7 sniper rifle with twenty rounds of ammunition, a throwing knife, and 50 gold sovereigns hidden within it. You just know from the off that Bond will use each and every item to great benefit before the end credits roll.

Agent 007 immediately sets off for Turkey, where he meets Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendáriz), head of the MI6 Station in Istanbul and an important ally as well as an amiable friend for Bond while he attempts to accomplish his difficult task. Armendáriz was diagnosed with inoperable cancer during filming in Istanbul, so the production was moved to Britain, and his scenes were brought forward. Though in pain, he continued working as long as he could. When no longer able to work, he returned home to Mexico and tragically committed suicide. Any remaining shots were filmed with a stunt double and Terence Young himself as stand-ins.

Ali Kerim Bey lends Bond a shoulder to spy on.
Ali Kerim Bey lends Bond a shoulder to spy on.

Bond‘s arrival does not go unnoticed by the Russian agents operating in the Turkish city, including Commissar Benz (Peter Bayliss) and his top assassin in the Balkans, the Bulgarian Krilencu (Fred Haggerty). They shadow the MI6 agent doggedly and are determined to thwart the spy’s plans, whatever they may be. SPECTRE agent Red Grant is also there, watching Bond’s every move, he is even willing to intercede anonymously against the Soviets on 007‘s behalf… at least, he is until Bond successfully gets possession of the decoding device, then of course Red intends to fulfil his mission and take care of Bond himself.

With the help of Tatiana, Bond and Kerim come up with a daring plan to steal the Lektor device from inside the Russian Consulate and than smuggle it to the West on board the Orient Express. But first, we are treated to a short stay in a Gypsy camp as Bond and Karim try to keep a low profile before they carry out the mission. There’s a fight between two Gypsy women (Aliza Gur in the red and Martine Beswick in the green), some rampant male chauvinism, and a rather splendid gun battle between the Gypsies, with Bond and Kerim, and a load of tooled up Russian agents.

Bond discovers how good Russian hospitality can be after Tatiana sneaks into his hotel room.
Bond discovers how good Russian hospitality can be after Tatiana sneaks into his hotel room.

The theft of the Lektor is quite the sequence as Bond infiltrates the Soviet Consulate and then spirits the device away with Tatiana through tunnels and vast underground rat-infested water cisterns beneath the diplomatic quarter and then they flee to board the Orient Express train pursued by Russian agents and, of course, with Red shadowing their every move.

The SPECTRE operative manages to successfully intercept a British agent, Captain Nash (William Hill), who was due to meet 007 at one of the train’s many stops down the line, and then assumes his identity to get close to Bond, Tatiana and the much sort after device. Inevitably, after a tense stand-off which culminates with Bond tricking Red into setting off the booby-trapped attaché case on the promise of gold-sovereigns, the two come to blows… and their fist-fight is a doozie, setting off the franchise’s some-time tradition for train-bound fight scenes, with gritty, brutal and surprisingly visceral style. Director Terence Young had been a boxer in Cambridge and he choreographed the fight along with stunt coordinator Peter Perkins.

The look you give the waiter when one of your party orders red wine with fish.
The look you give the waiter when one of your party orders red wine with fish.

The British agent and the Russian defector leave the train in Istria, Yugoslavia, to use Red‘s intended escape route, commandeering a SPECTRE truck that was waiting for him. They are pursued first by helicopter while in the truck, and then by boats when they switch to a boat of their own to try and get to Venice in Italy and apparent safety. Not in the original novel, these two chase scenes were added to provide an action climax for the movie. The former was inspired by the famous crop-dusting scene in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959) and the latter by The Red Beret (1953), a previous collaboration between this director and the producers.

This movie is the first Bond film to feature a theme song, something that would be a hallmark of all future Bonds. The song From Russia with Love was composed by Lionel Bart and sung by Matt Monro, and although it doesn’t play over the titles, it appears as source music played on a radio during the movie, and then more properly over the end credits. The title sequence, designed by Robert Brownjohn and in which the titles and principle credits are projected on female dancers (starting the tradition of scantily clad women in the Bond films’ title sequences), featured an instrumental version of the song. John Barry was the primary soundtrack composer (he composed and performed in twelve of the first fifteen James Bond films), and this movie was the first to feature his 007 percussive theme, action adventure music that came to be considered a secondary Bond theme and that is used here during the Gypsy camp gun-battle and the theft of the Lektor sequences.

The Orient Express is such a civilised way to travel. Bond and Red politely discuss their differences.
The Orient Express is such a civilised way to travel. Bond and Red politely discuss their differences.

This is a great Bond movie that has a comparatively down-to-earth and believable espionage style plot. It is easily the best of the 60s efforts, and though the pace sometimes lags, it is full of incident and has plenty of action. The characters are good; Bond, Tatiana, Karim, Red and Klebb are all particularly strong and the performances more than sound. There’s actual chemistry between Bond and Tatiana, and also with Karim. The interactions between 007 and the main SPECTRE antagonists often broil with malice and menace… and I love those poisonous switch-blade shoes.

The excellent cinematography highlights some fine locations including Istanbul, Venice, and Switzerland; though, to qualify for British Film funding, at least 70% of the movie had to be filmed in Great Britain. Many of the interior scenes and action sequences were shot at Pinewood Studios, in Buckinghamshire and in Argyll, Scotland.

I had a hard time finding anything particularly wrong with From Russia With Love, but if I must, here goes. As mentioned earlier, I wasn’t too fussed with the pre-title sequence and its fake-out death of Bond. I also thought the two chase set pieces towards the end, with the helicopter and the boats, were a little lacklustre, though I freely admit that this is probably only in comparison to the more modern movies where everything is thrown at the increasingly spectacular chase and action sequences. I was a little perturbed by the number of back-projection shots in this, with the principles resolutely studio bound when they should be out on location, but that is a malady that inflicts most movies from this period and, if truth be told, they are mostly kept to the bare minimum here.

A narrow escape from a pursuing SPECTRE helicopter. (There's a helicopter sequence in almost every Bond movie after this)
A narrow escape from a pursuing SPECTRE helicopter. (There’s a helicopter sequence in almost every Bond movie after this)

Ian Fleming considered From Russia, with Love his best Bond novel, and he visited the location shooting for this film in Istanbul, supervising production and touring the city with the producers. It is rumoured that the writer even appears in the finished movie, according to some he can be seen standing next to the Orient Express in one of the train station scenes, though I couldn’t spot him. From Russia With Love was the final Bond film Fleming viewed before he died. The author was initially not thrilled with the casting of Connery as his most famous character, James Bond, but after viewing this movie he changed his mind regarding the actor. Fleming would, in fact, add a Scottish ancestry to Bond’s character in later novels in recognition of the actor’s portrayal.

The film’s cinematographer Ted Moore won the BAFTA award for Best British Cinematography and the British Society of Cinematographers award for Best Cinematography in 1963. The movie was nominated in two categories of the Laurel Awards of 1965; Best Action Drama and Best Supporting Performance (Lotte Lenya). The theme song was nominated for Best Original Song in the 1965 Golden Globes.

SPECTRE just keeps coming after Bond and Tatiana as they flee with the encryption device.
SPECTRE just keeps coming after Bond and Tatiana as they flee with the encryption device. (The first of many speedboat chases to feature in the franchise)

Many critics list this among the best Bond movies ever made. Bond actors Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig, and current Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, all consider this their favourite Bond film. The long term initial Bond producer Albert Broccoli listed it in his top three favourites along with Goldfinger (1964) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). Total Film magazine named it the ninth-greatest British film of all time in 2004, the only James Bond film to appear on the list. In 2006 IGN listed it as the second-best Bond film ever, behind only Goldfinger, while Entertainment Weekly put the film at ninth. In Time Out magazine’s 2014 list of 101 best action movies, From Russia with Love was voted number 69 by the panel of film critics, directors, stunt performers and actors… the only other Bond to feature was Thunderball (1965) at number 79.

A video game adaptation of this movie was made in 2005 by Electronic Arts. It follows the storyline of the book and film, though numerous new scenes were added to make it more action-oriented and the criminal organisation SPECTRE was changed to OCTOPUS because of a legal dispute over the rights to use that name. Sean Connery, then in his seventies, recorded Bond‘s dialogue for the game, marking a return to the role 22 years after he last played it in the unofficial Bond film Never Say Never Again (1983).

They think it's all over! (This is the first Bond movie with a postscript action scene after the main climax. All subsequent Bonds would have one)
They think it’s all over! (This is the first Bond movie with a postscript action scene after the main climax. All subsequent Bonds would have one)

TL;DR:
This second Bond is the best of the 60s movies. Easily belongs in the Top 5 Bonds of all time.

Technical Rating: 9/10

Rating = 9.5/10
From a Basic score of 8.5 [Plot = 1; Characters = 1; Dialogue = 1; Acting = 1; Costumes & Styling = 1; Props & Sets = 1; Locations = 1; Cinematography = 1; Visual & Sound Effects = 0.5; Musical Score = 1]
Plus a Genre Bonus of 1.5 for the 00 attaché case from Q; for some relatively realistic spy-craft and intrigue; and for a top-notch fist fight between Bond and Red on the train.
Minus a Quality Penalty of 2 for the naff pre-title sequence with the Bond stand in [clearly Connery to begin with, but once he’s dead it’s just some rando wearing a really unconvincing Connery mask]; for a pace that sometimes lags; for a rather disappointing Blofeld (none) reveal; and for a couple of fairly lame and dated action set pieces towards the end [i.e. the one with the helicopter and the one with the boats… though I admit, that’s probably nitpicking].

It is now! A happy ending in Venice... well, in front of a back-projection screen in Pinewood Studios, England.
It is now! A happy ending in Venice… well, in front of a back-projection screen in Pinewood Studios, England.

Harbinger451‘s James Bond 007 Spy Movie Reviews will return with … Goldfinger (1964).

Check out Harbinger451’s previous Bond Movie Review, Dr. No (1962), HERE.

Check out the technicalities of my Movie Rating System HERE.

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James Bond 007 Spy Movie Review: Dr. No (UK/USA, 1962)

Posted by Harbinger451 on October 4, 2022

Dr. No Movie Poster
Dr. No Movie Poster

The Horror of it All CategoryA Harbinger451 James Bond 007 Spy Movie Review:

Dr. No (UK/USA, 1962)

Tagline: NOW meet the most extraordinary gentleman spy in all fiction!…JAMES BOND, Agent 007!
Content Rating: PG (originally A/12) – for mild sex and nudity, moderate violence, some smoking and alcohol use, and some intense and disturbing scenes.
Director: Terence Young
Production Co: Eon Productions, distributed by United Artists.
Runtime: 1hr 49min.

To celebrate sixty years of James Bond in film, I thought I’d rewatch every single one of them in order and write a review of each. Obviously I’ll be including all the official Eon Productions Bond movies, 1962-2021, with the addition of one unofficial entry, Warner Brothers’ Never Say Never Again from 1983. I will not be reviewing the 1955 Climax! TV series adaptation of Casino Royale because it casts Bond as an American CIA agent, so… just, no (also, I haven’t seen it). I will not be reviewing the original 1967 Columbia Pictures comedy version of Casino Royale either… for I do still have some self respect.

We start at the beginning of the Eon franchise with Dr. No, directed by Terence Young, starring Sean Connery and released in 1962. Originally intended as the first of five, this rather low budget ($1.1 million) British spy adventure film heralded one of the movie industry’s most profitable and long running franchises that’s still going strong today; 60 years, 25 official movies and over $5 billion in box office returns later. It also spawned countless imitations and numerous attempts at spoofing the Bond template; though it has to be said, the Bond movies, to varying degrees, are already a spoof of the spy genre themselves. Dr. No met with a mixed critical reception on its release, but was popular with audiences and made a more than healthy profit, the box office returns were $59.5 million.

"Bond, James Bond"
“Bond, James Bond”

Dr. No is somewhat loosely based on Ian Flemming‘s 1958 novel of the same name, his sixth to feature the super-spy James Bond, otherwise known as Agent 007. It includes many firsts, variations of which would reappear in almost all the subsequent films of the series, including: Maurice Binder‘s rifled gun barrel title sequence with Bond (here played by stunt double Bob Simmons) walking, turning and shooting; Monty Norman‘s magnificent signature James Bond Theme, orchestrated by John Barry; and the spy introducing himself as “Bond, James Bond”, this movie perhaps being the most famous instance of it with Sean Connery’s Bond uttering it at the Baccarat table near the beginning in the nightclub sequence featuring Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson). The film also set the standard for reclusive, mega-rich and megalomaniacal villains setting themselves up in Baroque lairs to bring ruin upon the world for their own nefarious and often bizarre purposes. A trope that would regularly be repeated, not just in the Bond movies.

The plot is essentially a paired down version of the novel with some alterations. When Strangways, the MI6 Station Chief in Jamaica, is murdered along with his secretary, the head of that secret intelligence service back in Britain, codenamed M (Bernard Lee), assigns intelligence officer James Bond (Sean Connery) to investigate the matter. After being briefed my M, Bond is told to leave his Beretta M1934 behind and Major Boothroyd (Peter Burton), head of MI6’s Q-Branch (the secret service’s Quartermaster’s Section), issues the agent with a Walther PPK, though in fact the gun given to Bond in this movie is a Walther PP which has a slightly larger grip, barrel and frame than the PPK.

Bond gives the chauffeur Mr Jones something to think about.
Bond gives the chauffeur Mr Jones something to think about.

The producers initially sought Cary Grant for the role of Bond, but he would not commit to more than one movie. Roger Moore was considered, but it was decided he looked “too young, perhaps a shade too pretty” at that time, and anyway, the actor was ensconced with shooting The Saint TV series by then which would first air in 1962 just one day before this movie premiered. Both Richard Johnson and Patrick McGoohan were also considered, but both turned it down, and even David Niven was posited briefly before being rejected. The role ultimately went to 31 year-old Connery; he was three years younger than Moore, though obviously didn’t look it. He’d started loosing his hair at seventeen and was required to wear a toupee for this role. By some accounts Connery was considered a bit rough round the edges when first cast, and Director Terence Young had to take the actor to his tailor and hairdresser for “refinements”, then educate him “in the ways of being dapper, witty, and above all, cool”. I have to admit I find Connery’s Bond a rather louche and boorish character who smirks his way through proceedings in an unappealing sort of way, but I’ll try not to let that colour my reviews of his Bonds too much.

Many of the MI6 characters introduced here would also appear regularly throughout the Bond movie series, of course there’s Bond’s boss, M, who was played by Lee in ten movies, and M’s secretary Miss Moneypenny, who was played by Lois Maxwell in 14 of them. Though he is not named as such here, Major Boothroyd is in fact Q, a character that has appeared in 22 of the 25 official movies so far, though Burton only played him in this one. CIA agent Felix Leiter would also go on to appear in numerous later movies, though very rarely being played by the same actor more than once or twice. This movie also introduces, if only in passing, the criminal organisation SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion) which often controls the various antagonists that Bond finds himself up against.

Bond meets Felix Leiter for the first time
Bond meets Felix Leiter for the first time.

Upon arriving in Jamaica, Bond is met at the airport by an apparent chauffeur, Mr Jones (Reginald Carter), sent from Government House in Kingston to collect him. This would not be protocol for an arriving clandestine agent, and Bond knows this, confirming his suspicions by calling Government House from the airport. After a brief fight, Bond attempts to interrogate the chauffeur, but Jones kills himself by biting into a cyanide-laced cigarette rather than talk. After meeting Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) and local boatman Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), 007 learns that Strangways was cooperating with the CIA on a case involving the disruption of rocket launches from Cape Canaveral by radio jamming, the signal of which was traced back to Jamaica. Quarrel had been ferrying Strangways about the nearby islands in the search for the source of these jamming signals, and it seems that one of these islands, Crab Key, was of particular interest due to the presence of abnormally high radioactivity.

Bond spoils Annabel Chung’s shots of him while Quarrel lends a hand.
Bond spoils Annabel Chung’s shots of him while Quarrel lends a hand.

As it turns out, Crab Key is the home of the mysterious Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman), a SPECTRE operative who will stop at nothing to ensure that Bond does not survive his investigations. Bond has to deal with various irritants sent by the bad Dr. No: including Annabel Chung (Marguerite LeWars), a very persistent photographer; the Three Blind Mice, a trio of assassins; Miss Taro (Zena Marshall), a double-agent secretary at Government House; Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson), a decidedly dodgy geologist; a poisonous tarantula, though tarantulas aren’t poisonous (it was a deadly centipede in the book); a flame-throwing armoured car, disguised as a dragon to scare off the locals; and of course, dozens of guards and henchmen once we get to the evil Doctor’s island and his underground nuclear power-plant base.

Miss Taro paints her talons while Bond smokes in bed.
Miss Taro paints her talons while Bond smokes in bed.

Along the way Bond meets Honey Rider (Ursula Andress, due to her heavy Swiss-German accent, she’s dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl [speaking] and Diana Coupland [singing]), a local shell diver who makes a habit of sneaking onto Crab Key island to collect the Jamaican seashells she sells on the sea shore in Miami. Her first scene in the movie, walking from the surf wearing a bikini made from a British Army webbing belt, became iconic and it not only sent sales of two-piece swimwear sky-rocketing, it also made Andress an international celebrity. With little actual screen time, she doesn’t appear till well after the half way mark, Honey’s only role it seems, apart from being obvious eye candy for the males in the audience, is to give Bond someone to rescue at the end.

This brings me to something that is never explained in the movie, when Bond and Honey are separated while at dinner with Dr. No, she is wearing a pink floral mini-dress over full length pink pants. But when Bond finds her again after his ridiculously easy escape and the sabotaging of No’s grand scheme, she’s not wearing any pants, just the dress, as he releases the shackles pinning her to a slope about to be inundated by the sea. Is it a continuity error or is this implying that Honey has been subjected to sexual assault by the guards? Of course a mainstream 60s movie would never depict such a thing directly, but Dr. No did suggest the guards amuse themselves with her when she was escorted away at dinner, so maybe this is a way of implying it without showing it.

The dastardly Prof. Dent meets his well deserved end.
The dastardly Prof. Dent meets his well deserved end.

I really enjoyed the first half of this movie very much, its got wit and style to spare and is driven by some hard-boiled espionage antics, exemplified by the cold-blooded killing of the treacherous Professor Dent by Bond. It has surprising grit and is violent for a 60s movie, not so much by today’s standards perhaps, but it was ground breaking at the time and definitely set the mould for many a spy infused action adventure movie to come. I can’t deny that Connery was good in this, as were the rest of the cast, though I particularly liked Jack Lord as Felix, Joseph Wiseman as Dr. No and Zena Marshal as Miss Taro.

The film does, however, get a little bogged down in the second half once Bond gets to Dr. No‘s island and the pace stagnates somewhat in comparison, the plot descending into linear simplicity and culminating in a less than impressive climax (though I admit that this is probably in comparison to later Bond movies with much more complex and spectacular endings … and, of course, much larger budgets). Having said that, the Jamaican locations are all great and suitably exotic, especially the bauxite terminal near Oracabessa used for the external shots of Dr. No’s island base. Ken Adams‘ set designs for the interiors of the base are simple but stylishly evocative.

Bond admires Honey Rider and her skimpy swim suit.
Bond admires Honey Rider and her skimpy swim suit.

The musical score is a little hit and miss, though the main James Bond Theme is of course a triumph, the theme entered the UK Singles Chart and reached a peak position of number thirteen during its eleven week stay. The calypso elements of the score are probably an acquired taste these days, but at least they do successfully evoke a suitably 60s Jamaican milieu.

After seeing the movie, Ian Fleming described it as “Dreadful. Simply dreadful” and was not happy with the casting of Connery, but changed his mind as the franchise progressed. Due to the subtle elements of humour and self-parody in the movies, Fleming even changed his depiction of the literary Bond, giving him a sense of humour in You Only Live Twice, published in 1964, a trait that was missing in earlier books. Fleming had often visited the location filming of Dr. No in Jamaica, shooting taking place close to his Goldeneye estate, and he’d had many opinions regarding some of the casting. He apparently favoured Richard Todd or Edward Underdown for the role of Bond and had wanted Noël Coward (his friend) or Christopher Lee (his step-cousin) to play the role of Dr. No. The sales of Fleming’s novels blew-up after the release of this and subsequent movies, 500,000 had sold by 1961, that rose to seven million by 1965.

Bond and Honey (with pink pants) come face to face with Dr. No.
Bond and Honey (with pink pants) come face to face with Dr. No.

The Vatican condemned the movie as “a dangerous mixture of violence, vulgarity, sadism and sex” and the Kremlin described Bond as the personification of capitalist evil. Both views only served to increase public awareness and led to greater box-office returns for the film. President John F. Kennedy, a fan of the James Bond novels, requested a private showing in the White House. It was ranked 41 on the top 100 British films list compiled by the British Film Institute in 1999, and in 2005 the American Film Institute recognised the character of Bond, as played by Connery in this film, as the third greatest film hero of the past 100 years.

TL;DR:
Seminal Bond, spawned the franchise, good, but not great.

Technical Rating: 8/10

Rating = 8/10
From a Basic score of 8.5 [Plot = 0.5; Characters = 1; Dialogue = 1; Acting = 1; Costumes & Styling = 1; Props & Sets = 1; Locations = 1; Cinematography = 1; Visual & Sound Effects = 0.5; Musical Score = 0.5]
Plus a Genre Bonus of 1.5 for some hard-boiled espionage antics during the first half; for Bond being a cold blooded son-of-a-bitch in the way he despatches Dent; and for the flame-throwing armoured car.
Minus a Quality Penalty of 2 for a rather ponderous second half [once the action shifts to Dr. No’s island]; for Honey Rider simply being there so Bond has someone to rescue at the end; for Bond’s escape from Dr. No’s cell being way too easy; and for quite a lame and somewhat ridiculous climax in Dr. No’s control room [at least when seen with modern eyes and expectations].

Bond and Honey (without pink pants) have a Happy Ending.
Bond and Honey (without pink pants) have a Happy Ending.

Harbinger451‘s James Bond 007 Spy Movie reviews will return with … From Russia With Love (1963).

Check out the technicalities of my Movie Rating System HERE.

The Horror of it All… enter HERE all those who delight in horror, death, the macabre, the occult, black humor, weird tales, dark fantasy – and all such nefarious pleasures.

Subscribe to this blog to keep updated on all my articles, stories, reviews and publications – or follow me on Twitter HERE.

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Swords and Sorcery Fantasy Movie Review: The Archer: Fugative from the Empire (USA, 1981)

Posted by Harbinger451 on February 22, 2022

The Archer: Fugative from the Empire

The Horror of it All CategoryA Harbinger451 Swords & Sorcery Fantasy Movie Review:

The Archer: Fugative from the Empire (USA, 1981)

AKA: The Archer and the Sorceress.
Content Rating: PG – for fantasy action/adventure violence.
Director: Nicholas J. Corea
Production Co: Mad Dog Productions & Universal Television.
Runtime: 1hr 36min.

The Archer: Fugative from the Empire is the first in an intended series of TV movies for NBC, the later instalments of which did not materialize. We are left with a pilot that ends on a now strange “to-be-continued” note that ultimately leads nowhere. It’s a bit of a shame, for this is a pretty decent attempt at a sword and sorcery tale, even though it admittedly suffers from the typical budgetary and technical limitations of such television productions made during the very early 80s.

It concerns the adventures of Toran (Lane Caudell), a young and dispossessed barbarian prince with a magic bow, who is on the run from The Dynasty, a cruel invading empire, after being framed in the assassination of his father by his duplicitous cousin Sandros (Marc Alaimo). He’s trying to find the great wizard Lazar-Sa who may be able to help him. While being tracked by the Dynasty’s supreme warlord Gar (Kabir Bedi) and his snake people minions, Toran picks up a pair of companions, a young sorceress called Estra (Belinda Bauer) and a roguish thief named Slant (Victor Campos).

Archer Fugative of the Empire
Toran (Lane Caudell – right) and his father, Brakus (George Kennedy -left).

The plot is unavoidably half-baked due to the cancellation of any continuing instalments, and the characters and dialogue, though colourful, are rather hackneyed. The acting is hammy at best, though this movie does grant you the chance to enjoy the spectacle of George Kennedy done up as a braided, bleached-blonde barbarian king, Toran‘s father, at the beginning.

The props, sets and locations are all a bit hit and miss but generally acceptable, as is the cinematography. It’s all fairly standard 80s TV fair so the visual effects leave a lot to be desired, although the makeup, masks and costumes for the lizard-man snake people are quite good … its almost worth watching for them alone. The costumes are generally more hit than miss; some thought and creativity clearly went into them.

Archer Fugative from the Empire.
The Dynasty’s supreme warlord Gar (Kabir Bedi) with one of his snake people henchmen.

The worst thing about the whole show was probably the annoying electronic music. It is often touted as the first major film to have a one hundred per cent synthesized score (though Hawk The Slayer (1980) appears to have had one a year earlier). This jarring incidental soundtrack was very intrusive in a lot of places and seemed more suited to science fiction than sword and sorcery.

Archer Fugative from the Empire
The snake people really are the best thing about this movie.

The series was probably never continued because of its initial lack-lustre reception when first broadcast in the USA. It should be considered somewhat ahead of its time, however. If it had come out just one year later, perhaps it would have benefited from the success of Excalibur (1981), Dragonslayer (1981) and Conan the Barbarian (1982) and the wider interest in swords and sorcery that these big-budget, big-screen movie successes spawned. The Archer was better received outside of the US and was even released theatrically in West Germany and France.

Archer: Fugative from the Empire
Slant (Victor Campos), Toran (Lane Caudell) and Estra (Belinda Bauer) are ready for action.

Any self-respecting fantasy fan should see this moderately entertaining film at least once; needless to say, though, true fantasy fanatics will be falling over themselves to add this to their permanent movie collection.

Technical Rating: 5/10
(From a Basic Score of 4.5 [Plot = 0.5; Characters = 0.5; Dialogue = 0.5; Acting = 0.5; Costumes & Styling = 1; Props & Sets = 0.5; Locations = 0.5; Cinematography = 0.5; Visual & Sound Effects = 0; Musical Score = 0]; plus a Genre Bonus of 0.5 for the snake people.)

Archer: Fugative from the Empire
The guardian of the shrine where Toran finds the sorceress Estra.

Check out the technicalities of my Movie Rating System HERE.

Buy The Archer: Fugative from the Empire (1981) in the UK

Buy The Archer: Fugative from the Empire (1981) in the US

Check out my list of notable Swords & Sorcery Fantasy Movies HERE.

The Horror of it All… enter HERE all those who delight in horror, death, the macabre, the occult, black humor, weird tales, dark fantasy – and all such nefarious pleasures.

Subscribe to this blog to keep updated on all my articles, stories, reviews and publications – or follow me on Twitter HERE.

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A Legacy of Dirt: The Shunned Place — A Tale of Lovecraftian Noir by Peter Guy Blacklock — Chapter Two: Dissolute Progeny

Posted by Harbinger451 on January 24, 2022

The Horror of it All CategoryA Legacy of Dirt: The Shunned Place — A Tale of Lovecraftian Noir by Peter Guy Blacklock — Chapter Two: Dissolute Progeny

I have finally got round to editing the second chapter of my Lovecraftian Horror, hard-boiled Noir mashup. A newly finalised Chapter One can be found HERE, if you haven’t already read it. This tale was originally intended to be a novella (of about 40,000 words), but may now have to be expanded into a short novel (of about 50,000 to 60,000 words) depending on how the remaining writing and editing process goes.

I make no appolgies for depicting the characters as movie stars from 40s and 50s genre film, in keeping with the first chapter. I find it useful to picture the said stars as the characters in my story while I’m writing, and I thought it might give the readers here a helping hand to visualise them more accurately while reading.

I currently have six chapters drafted out and will probably post a couple more here to this website as teasers before I get the full ten to twelve chapters written, edited and ultimately published. Now, to the text of the latest chapter…

Chapter Two: Dissolute Progeny

The Lincoln’s twin headlights projected two searching beams that scanned and probed the dead of night darkness through near opaque sheets of rain. The slate grey stones of the looming five-storied keep-like house, and the castellated walls of the courtyard that fronted it, glistened wet, black and slick. It was an ugly, horned toad of a building. Big and hulking, with bloated appendages squared out and meeting in an arch over the open entrance through the gatehouse. Already, Lofty knew he hated the place. It reminded him too much of the old-world edifices the Nazis had so often occupied and used to dominate local populations across Europe. They had been bases from which to brutalize with an unrelenting iron fist. They made perfect prisons to hold those that resisted them, and holes to throw those that did not fit within their twisted, evil ideology of affected purity and supremacy.

The big sedan slipped through the yawning gatehouse with masses of room to spare and on into the inner cobblestone court. In the middle of the courtyard was a circular structure about fifteen feet wide and five feet high, like a low building, but with no doors or windows. It had a shallow, conical roof made of timber, suggesting it was a kind of covered water well — a thing it was assuredly too big to be in any conventional sense. Lofty drove around it slow, taking in the size of the main house. He beeped the horn several times in the hope it would bring someone to let them in from the rain that much sooner. The courtyard itself was about fifty feet across, flanked by ancillary buildings. Most now garages, but once were stables and other workshops or housings typical of such late medieval complexes. He pulled up to the broad, high stairs that led to the big front doors of the building proper, which remained decisively closed.

“Well, there’s no point in us both getting wet again.” He said with a glance back at Martha. “You better stay here till I can get someone to come and open the door. It’s only eleven, there should be people about, and I’m sure the old bird will have plenty of servants.”

“What makes you think it’s locked,” she said, “maybe we can go straight in.”

“If you ask me, walking into a rich man’s house unannounced in the middle of the night is a good way to get yourself drilled. Anyway — if I was rich and it was my house — I’d keep it locked.”

She nodded.

He got out, ran around the sedan and sprinted up the five massive steps to the solid-looking double doors. They each sported a heavy knocker, and a bell-pull hung to the side. He knocked loudly, then gave the pull an urgent couple of tugs. Lofty looked the doors up and down as he waited, getting wetter and more impatient as the rain continued to pour. Directly above, where the two doors met, he noticed a strange — and relatively recent — embellished ankh-like symbol carved roughly into the thick lacquer of the ancient weather-worn timber frame. His gloom adapted eyes were dazzled by the bright shaft of light cast into them as the doors opened inward. Though not before he noticed the shadowed impression of another, older and more subtle, carved sigil inscribed on the underside of the massive stone lintel that jutted out above his head. There he saw a stylized pictogram or hieroglyph depicting what looked like a fat, squat bat with three protrusions rising from its triangular head; long ears perhaps, with a single central horn?

Chapter Two Sigils
The two sigils carved into and above the door frame.

“Yes, yes?” Came a stern and austere female voice from inside. “Who is it at such a late hour? What is it? What do you want?” A tall, slim, rather sombre middle-aged woman stared at him accusingly from the bright, warm and dry within.

“Mr Robertson and Miss Woodstern.” He said, looking down with what he hoped was a charming smile. “I believe we are expected.”

“Expected, eh. I see a Mister, but no Miss!” She said as if somehow catching him out.

Lofty turned — about to whistle to the car — but the fox-fur wrapped Martha was already running up the stairs, having seen the castle doors open from within the vehicle.

“Ah, and there is the Miss.” The woman said, seemingly disappointed. “Well, I suppose you had better come in if your arrival is, indeed, anticipated. You’re not the first of the vultures to arrive, and I expect you will not be the last.”

Lofty and Martha gave each other a sideways glance as the woman turned begrudgingly to allow them in. “Do you not have any luggage?” She said.

“Oh, yes — in the Lincoln.” Lofty paused as if to go back.

Rosalie Crutchley - Mrs Dudley
Mrs Rachel Dudley, the housekeeper at Castle House.

“No, it is fine. I will get Sagamore to fetch your bags, and he can move the automobile into one of the garages. He will carry your things up to your rooms. But first, I must ask that you go through into the parlour.” She waved them toward the first door on the left in the palatial high-ceilinged reception hall that stretched through the centre of the building toward the distant stairs. “Master Shelby will want to greet you and check your letters. I am afraid Master Castle himself has already retired for the night — he will see you in the morning.”

“Master Shelby?” Quizzed Lofty as they moved toward the door of the parlour.

“Vincent Shelby, Master Castle’s nephew.” The woman replied as if she were stating the obvious. She ushered them through the door from the hall and unceremoniously closed it behind them the instant they were inside.

The parlour was a formal wood-panelled sitting room, dominated by a huge desk and liberally scattered with an eclectic mix of objet d’art from almost every corner of the globe and every age of its history. It positively reeked of old money, a lot of it. Lofty wandered around the room, silently appraising the various pieces on show. Martha settled herself down in one of the many plush chairs facing the almost monumental desk. It acted like a focal altar dedicated to the ostentatious wealth displayed on and around it.

Minutes passed before the presaged nephew of Master William Castle joined the two guests. He proved to be a tall man with broad shoulders, probably in his thirties, rather doughy and soft-looking. He seemed uncomfortable in his large masculine frame, almost like it belied his status as a refined gentleman. Lofty doubted the man had ever done a days work in his life, certainly not the kind of work that would cause him to break a sweat. And yet he was mopping his brow with a large handkerchief as he entered the room through the same door they had. He was impeccably dressed and groomed, with a sardonic smile, a pencil moustache and a clipped accent that put Lofty’s nerves on edge.

“Mister Robertson and Miss Woodstern.” The rich man’s nephew said. “It is such a pleasure to meet you both.” Though he seemed to only have eyes for Martha, barely giving Lofty a second glance. He approached and greeted her with a hand held out. She instinctively raised her hand to his. He made a rather gallant flourish of taking it and kissing the back of her proffered fingertips. “Exquisite.” He said and then looked at her face more closely. “Forgive me, but have we met before? You seem awfully familiar, oh, I’ve got it — you bear an uncanny resemblance to a certain young starlet who made a bit of a splash recently. Sugar Malone, that’s it, could be the next big name in Hollywood.”

Martha laughed at that. “There’s nothing uncanny about it. I’ve only had a few very small bit-parts so far, though. Not quite the glittering heights of Hollywood. Sugar Malone is my professional name — have you seen any of my performances on the silver screen, or maybe some of my shoots?”

“Yes, yes, of course, but this is incredible. To have an up and coming star here with us, a member of the family no less, I cannot begin to tell you how delighted I am.” He finally let Martha’s hand go and then sidled and smarmed his way to the seat behind the immense desk. “Well, I must thank providence for bringing a touch of glamour to this otherwise rather humdrum and depressing family affair. In fact, for bringing such glamour to this otherwise humdrum and depressing family full stop. For in truth, it would seem that we are indeed all related.” With that, he sat down.

Vincent Price - Vincent Shelby
Vincent Shelby, William Castle’s nephew.

“Though we must be pretty distant relations and from decidedly poorer branches of the family.” Said Lofty as he casually sat in a chair beside Martha. “Neither of us had even heard of old Wilbur before receiving the letters from his son, your uncle.”

“Oh indeed. Let us just say that my grandfather, and his father before him, had a remarkably prodigious talent for siring children that were not, for want of a better term — and if you’ll forgive my frankness — conceived in the marital bed. The copious results of their dissolute progeny have spread far and wide, whereas the seeds sown closer to home fell on increasingly infertile ground. My uncle, for example, despite a long life of dalliances and indulgences — perhaps the victim of some cosmic joker trying to redress the balance — has had little success as the expected great progenitor he so aspired to be.”

“And what about yourself?” Asked Lofty coolly as he tapped himself a cigarette from his pack. “No legitimate heirs to pass the vast fortune on to?” He then bumped another and offered it to Martha. She took it gladly.

As Lofty lit her cigarette and then his own, Vincent Shelby shifted uncomfortably. “Alas,” he said, “as for myself, I have neither the temperament nor the desire for children — legitimate or otherwise. Much to the displeasure of my dearly departed grandfather.” A hint of resentment entered his voice. “Who very much came to see me as the prodigal black-sheep, if you’ll excuse my mixing of metaphors, and an unmitigated dynastic dead-end, as he put it.”

“So, I suppose,” Lofty indicated himself and Martha, “we are the results of the dissolute progeny that now needs bringing back into the familial fold for the sake of the dynasty. To rejuvenate the infertile ground, so to speak.“

“Bluntly, yes.” Said Shelby with a thin smile. “My grandfather saw the two of you, among others, as the potential long-term security for the legacy of his diminishing and dissipated family. You would not believe the trouble we had tracking down the more dispersed and disparate of you all.”

“Where’s the catch?” Said Martha, cutting to the chase through the bandied wordiness of the two men. “You don’t generally get something for nothing in this life, and there is always a catch in my experience… so what is it?”

“As to that,” Shelby replied, his smile getting thinner, “I am as much in the dark as you. Presumably, all will be revealed at sundown tomorrow, at the reading of the will. Now, if I could check your letters. Then I’ll get Mrs Dudley to show you to your rooms, and you can change out of those wet things, freshen up and make yourselves more comfortable.”

“I need to make a phone call,” said Lofty as he handed over the letter, “to the police… someone was taking potshots out on the road — I should report it.”

“Really — how awful. Unfortunately, there are no phone lines that come all the way out here.” Said Shelby as he stood and rang a bell-pull by the door. “We are quite isolated in that regard.”

“Maybe we can try sending smoke signals or something.” Said Martha under her breath.

*

They were in their respective rooms on the third floor within half an hour, after climbing two sets of turning stairs at alternate ends of the long central corridors that ran the length of the building on each level. Although the house had looked big from the outside, it seemed positively cavernous now that they were inside it. The floor could easily hold twelve spacious guest rooms, each about nine or ten feet wide and twenty or so long. Assuming they were all analogous to the room that Lofty found himself. There was an open fireplace, a high-backed chair and desk, an armoire and dresser, a couple of easy chairs, bookshelves, a rather large bed with an ornately carved chest at its foot and accompanying side cabinets on either side of its head. There was even a compact, though well-stocked, drinks cabinet. If somewhat cluttered, it was a veritable home from home, sumptuously comfortable and certainly plusher than his usual lodgings. It was all dark mahoganies, soft leathers and rich fabrics. Everything had a sheen of the exotic, the antique and the expensive.

The only thing missing was his luggage from the car. Lofty took his wet jacket off and hung it over the high-backed chair, which he placed a safe distance from the fire to dry. He lit himself a cigarette and then poured himself a shot of whiskey from one of the decanters supplied by his host. As he settled himself into one of the easy chairs, his shoulder holster and gun hanging over the back of it, he heard a loud knock to the adjoining room that now sequestered Miss Martha Woodstern. A few minutes later, there was a heavy knock at his door too. Lofty lazily stood and opened it.

Jay Silverheels - Samuel Sagamore
Samuel Sagamore, the caretaker at Castle House.

A large Native American dressed in work-denims filled the doorway; his thick, unruly hair slicked back and his arms full of luggage.

“You must be Sagamore?” Posited Lofty as he stood aside to allow him entry.

The man gave a glum nod as he strode past and dropped the bags inside the room. As he turned to leave, he held out the keys that Lofty had left in the car.

“Sagamore’s your surname, right?” Asked Lofty as conversationally as he could while taking the keys. Again, the man only nodded, so the P.I. continued. “You descended from the last chief of the old Agawam tribe?”

The Native stopped and looked at Lofty. “You ask a lot of questions, bud.” He said gruffly.

“Sorry, I was a student of history before the war, that’s all. I did a thesis on Algonquin culture in my final year at Miskatonic. The Agawam featured prominently, being the local tribe. What I would have given to have been able to talk to someone like you back then.”

“Someone like me?” Sagamore’s expression took on a more baleful aspect.

“An actual descendant of Chief Masconomet. He was quite the significant player in early Essex County history. Didn’t he and his family adopt the name Sagamore after he ceded the Agawam lands over to the English Colony?”

“He did, but that was a long time ago.” Sagamore seemed to consider a moment before continuing. “His people were already decimated by plague and misfortune before you English ever set foot here. The tribe ceded their language and their identity on that day too. They forsook their Algonquin heritage and adapted to the ways of the colonists. Countless generations have passed since that time; I doubt many of their descendants now know or even care who the Agawam were.”

“You certainly seem to know.” Stated Lofty as he stubbed out his cigarette. “But you’re right; first-hand knowledge of the Agawam is pretty hard to come by these days.”

Sagamore’s aspect lightened somewhat. “Quite the coincidence then that ya should find someone like me now, all-be-it belatedly — at least as far as your thesis is concerned.”

“Have a snort with me?” The P.I. proposed as he poured himself another whiskey. “It don’t seem right calling ya Sagamore; what’s your first name?”

“Samuel.” He said. “I don’t drink, but if you’re in a giving mood, I’ll gladly take one of them butts off ya.”

The detective tapped a smoke from his pack and proffered it to Samuel. “My name’s Mitch, by the way, though most folks call me Lofty.”

“Thanks.” Said Samuel taking it and flaring it up with his own lighter.

Robert Mitchum - Mitch 'Lofty' Robertson
Mitch ‘Lofty’ Robertson

“So, what’s your place in this big old house? How long ya been here?” Lofty sat back down into the easy chair, he indicated the other chair, but Samuel Sagamore remained standing.

After a massive draw on his cigarette, the Native American said, “Been here about a year. They say I’m a caretaker, but I’m really the general dogsbody who does all the heavy work. Pay is good though, free bed and board — so, can’t complain, except for the isolation and the bad spirits that roam here.” He took another long draw.

“The bad spirits?” Lofty asked with a curiosity tinged by scepticism and a wry smile.

“There’s something not right about this house, that’s all. You’ll soon see; strange sounds in the night, ominous feelings, unpleasant smells, sudden chills. A place like this gets under your skin. It’s a bad house built on bad ground. The Algonquin called this area the Shunned Place, the mound that this house sits on, as well as the woods, marshes and estuaries that surround it; they would not go near it. The headlands and islands between the estuaries of the Ipswich and Essex Rivers were all forbidden.”

“But I thought there used to be some sort of old native earthworks or ruins here — a kind of quarry or mine — the records were somewhat vague. I even read it might have been a ritual complex in one account?”

“Those ancient ruins were older by far than even the earliest memories of the Agawam, or so the stories told. Strange stone-carved figures stood here on the hill once, supposedly depicting an ancient race that was not quite human. They lived here long before the Agawam or any of the Algonquin tribes. A cruel people, it was said, who built a malign place in which to worship their evil god.” He then gave a sardonically dark smile. “Of course, these days, that can all be dismissed as native superstition.”

There was a distant roll of thunder, followed by a sudden rap of knocks at the door.

“I should get back to my room.” Said Samuel Sagamore as he stepped to the door and opened it.

Waiting on the other side was Martha. Confronted by the big Native American making to leave, she took a surprised step back. He nodded to her and said, “Miss.” Then looked back at Lofty. “Probably best not wander too far from your rooms when it gets to the early hours.” He said ominously. “That’s when the bad spirits tend to stir.”

He left, and Martha stepped in, closing the door behind him. “What was that all about?” She said. The young woman had changed into an especially slinky Chinese-style dress, and to Lofty’s eyes, she looked like a million dollars and then some.

“Oh, just another attempt at spooking us into leaving, I think.” He said.

“What do you mean, another attempt?”

“The gas-station attendant was all dizzy with haunted house nonsense too. I’m beginning to think the Castle’s have hired a bunch of actors or something, to get us to fade before the reading of the will.”

“Haunted house?” She said, a little nonplussed. “You trying to tell me this hideous pile has ghosts adrift in its dark and drafty corridors?”

Martha Vickers - Martha Woodstern
Martha Woodstern AKA Sugar Malone.

“Supposed to have — can’t say I’m buying it — though that Indian was good, laid it on a little thick, but he knew his stuff. He dangled just the right bait, and like a sap, I bit.”

“That makes no sense, though.” Said Martha as she sat in the other easy chair. “He never said a word to me, just dumped my bags like sacks of coal… and why would they invite us out here just to scare us off?”

Lofty paused to think but was frustrated in his search for an answer. “Don’t know. I guess I’m so busy second-guessing everything, I’ve stopped seeing things for what they are — a crazy gas-station attendant and an overly superstitious Indian.”

“Don’t forget the cantankerously hostile housekeeper and the sleazily creepy nephew with his morally bankrupt forbears. This place certainly seems to attract the strangest of people, and I don’t know what that says about the two of us.”

Lofty laughed kind of dryly at that. “No,” he said, “me neither.”

“Well, one thing’s for sure,” she then said with a half-smile, “that bullet that clipped your ear wasn’t an actor or a ghost.”

“Damn, I’d forgotten about that.” Lofty stood and went over to the mirror on top of the dresser to look. It was only a nick, though it had stung like blazing hell when first inflicted. It seemed to have stopped bleeding, and most of the blood had washed clean away in the heavy rain. He decided to leave it; cleaning it any more may just set it off bleeding again.

“So,” said Martha, “are we still nipping downstairs to get the lay?” Although Mrs Dudley had quickly pointed out certain rooms as she guided them upstairs, she had barely given them time to think, let alone take it in. They had agreed to have a good scout of the lower floors once they changed out of their wet clothes.

“I still haven’t had the chance to get changed.” He said. “Can I knock on your door in about five?” He was keen to see if any of the other guests were up and about. Mrs Dudley had mentioned that four ‘of the vultures’ had arrived sometime before them, and Lofty was itching to get the skinny on them all.

“Sure thing, Gee.” She said. Before leaving, she quipped. “Don’t waste time fretting on haunted house tales; the living are proving far creepier than any supposed ghost. Jeez, way things are headed, there’s probably some crazy old crone of a maiden aunt locked up in the attic somewhere.”

__________

Chapter Three: [Title yet to be finalised] will be coming to this blog soon and I may feature another of the initial chapters here before publication of the finished ebook and paperback later in the year.

Subscribe to this blog to keep updated on all my articles, stories and publications – or follow me on Twitter HERE.

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Swords and Sorcery Fantasy Movie Review: Clash of the Titans (UK/USA, 1981)

Posted by Harbinger451 on January 7, 2022

Clash of the Titans

The Horror of it All CategoryA Harbinger451 Swords & Sorcery Fantasy Movie Review:

Clash of the Titans (UK/USA, 1981)

Tagline: An Epic Entertainment Spectacular! | Experience The Fantastic! | You will feel the power. Live the adventure. Experience the fantastic.
Content Rating: 12 – for moderate fantasy/adventure violence with some blood and gore, some mild horror and some mild nudity.
Director: Desmond Davis
Production Co: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Runtime: 1hr 58min.

Clash of the Titans is old-school visual effects maestro Ray Harryhausen‘s last movie before retiring, and he returns to Greek Mythology for inspiration, Jason and the Argonauts (UK/USA, 1963) being his only other such outing. It’s certainly his biggest budgeted film ever, it cost an estimated $15,000,000 and he throws everything at it. Of all his movies, only Hammer Production’s One Million Years B.C. (1966) has come close to featuring as many stop-motion elements as this one. The stop-motion animation technique, that Harryhausen specialized in, was well past its sell-by date by the time this movie came out though. In comparison, the animatronics used in the contemporaneous movie Dragonslayer (UK/USA, 1981) were state-of-the-art. The stop-motion creatures of Clash were looking decidedly unsophisticated and even, dare I say, somewhat naff by this point.

Despite all that, the movie is still very entertaining in parts, and it did well at the box office, making $70,000,000. If you’re a fan of Harryhausen, adventure movies, mythology, or fantasy in general, there is still a lot to enjoy here.

The movie retells the story of Perseus (Harry Hamlin) and Andromeda (Judi Bowker), and features many of the Greek Olympian pantheon; including Zeus (Laurence Olivier), Hera (Claire Bloom), Thetis (Maggie Smith), Aphrodite (Ursula Andress), Poseidon (Jack Gwillim), Athena (Susan Fleetwood) and Hephaestus (Pat Roach).

Clash of the Titans
Perseus consults with the Stygian Witches for some much needed advice.

Listed in the credits are The Mythologicals (as themselves). These are the stop-motion creations featured in the film; Bubo (a mechanical owl fashioned by Hephaestus), Charon (the ferryman across the River Styx), Dioskilos (a two-headed hell hound), Kraken (a sea monster), Medusa (the gorgon, a snake-haired horror), Pegasus (a winged, flying horse), giant Scorpions (born from Medusa’s spilt blood) and a giant Vulture. There is also Calibos, played by Neil McCarthy, who gets transformed into a deformed monstrous satyr-like creature by Zeus for committing several atrocities against the father of the gods, including the killing of his sacred flying horses (not including Pegasus).

A beautiful mortal, Danaë (Vida Taylor), is impregnated by Zeus and gives birth to Perseus. Her furious father, King Acrisius of Argos (Donald Houston), locks her and her newborn demigod son into a chest and casts them to the seas. Zeus kills the King in revenge and orders Poseidon to release the last of the Titans, the Kraken, to destroy Argos. The chest carrying Danaë and her son safely floats to the island of Seriphos, where Perseus grows to adulthood.

Clash of the Titans Movie Still
Perseus and his pals must overcome Dioskilos the hell hound before confronting the Gorgon.

Princess Andromeda, daughter of Queen Cassiopeia of Joppa (Siân Phillips), was betrothed to Calibos, the no-good son of sea-goddess Thetis before he was turned into a hideous creature by Zeus. Now she is cursed to only be able to marry a suitor who can answer a riddle set that day by the deformed and bitter Calibos, failure to answer the riddle correctly would result in the suitor’s execution. To revenge herself on Zeus, Thetis brings Perseus to Joppa, knowing he will fall for Andromeda and that he will attempt to answer one of her son’s riddles … and undoubtedly fail. With the aid of some gifts from the gods (including a helm of invisibility from Athena, a magical sword from Aphrodite, and a very shiny shield from Hera) and with some sneaking around, Perseus is able to learn the next day’s riddle in advance and correctly answers. This infuriates Thetis and her son.

At the wedding of Perseus and Andromeda in Thetis’ own temple in Joppa, Cassiopeia foolishly declares her daughter more beautiful than even Thetis herself. Knowing she cannot act against Perseus without angering Zeus, the angry sea-goddess demands Andromeda be sacrificed to the Kraken, or she’ll have the monstrous beast destroy the city instead. With the help of friends, poet Ammon (Burgess Meredith) and soldier Thallo (Tim Pigott-Smith), Perseus and Andromeda must find a way to defeat the Kraken. They seak out the Stygian Witches (the Graeae, or grey witches/sisters) for this purpose and are told that the only way is by using the head of the gorgon, Medusa. Whose gaze can turn any living thing, including the Kraken, into stone, but Medusa lives on an island in the River Styx, which is right at the edge of the Underworld.

Although rather loose with its interpretation of the mythology, Clash of the Titans certainly packs a lot into its dense, almost two-hour runtime. As well as being Ray Harryhausen’s final effort, this was also the last theatrical film for producer Charles H. Schneer and actor Donald Houston, as well as that of Flora Robson and Freda Jackson, who played two of the three Stygian Witches (Anna Manahan played the third).

Clash of the Titans Movie Still
Persues tries to not catch the eye of the baleful Medusa, that hideous Gorgon.

Clash of the Titans‘ screenwriter, Beverley Cross, was married to Maggie Smith, who played Thetis. He was also the screenwriter for Jason and the Argonauts. Jack Gwillim, who appeared here as Poseidon, had played the role of King Aeëtes in Jason and the Argonauts.

The Kraken is in fact a product of Norwegian mythology, not Greek. The name is synonymous in Norwegian and Swedish with a giant squid. According to Greek myth, the sea monster (not a Titan) that Andromeda was to be sacrificed to was called Cetus, which means whale. The only other “Titan” featured in Clash of the Titans was Medusa, but she was not considered a Titan in Greek Mythology. The Titans were not monsters necessarily; they were simply the twelve gods and goddesses who preceded the Olympians. In the original myth, Cassiopeia and Andromeda were Queen and Princess of Aethiopia, not Joppa. Though, a later variant does place the climactic events there. Perseus did not fly with the aid of a captured Pegasus (that was Bellerophon); Perseus had winged sandals loaned to him by the god Hermes. Of the other gifts, Zeus gave him the sword, Hades‘s gave the helm of invisibility, and Athena gave the polished shield.

Clash of the Titans Movie Still
Perseus will never be short of head from now on.

A CGI heavy 3D remake, Clash of the Titans (USA, 2010), was produced and followed by a sequel, Wrath of the Titans (USA, 2012). Both star Sam Worthington as Perseus, and both depict Hades as the main antagonist plotting against the demigod hero.

Technical Rating: 6.5/10
(From a Basic Score of 6 [Plot = 0.5; Characters = 0.5; Dialogue = 0.5; Acting = 0.5; Costumes & Styling = 0.5; Props & Sets = 0.5; Locations = 1; Cinematography = 1; Visual & Sound Effects = 0.5; Musical Score = 0.5]; minus a Quality Penalty of 0.5 for its rather plodding pace and overlong runtime; plus a Genre Bonus of 1 for depicting the Greek gods and for bringing so many mythological creatures to life, including Medusa and Pegasus, albeit in a stilted stop-motion form.)

Check out the technicalities of my Movie Rating System HERE.

Clash of the Titans Movie Still
The rousing finale would have been gobsmackingly awesome back in the 60s or even the early 70s, but in the 80s – not so much.

Buy Clash of the Titans (1981) in the UK

Buy Clash of the Titans (1963) in the US

Check out my list of notable Swords & Sorcery Fantasy Movies HERE.

The Horror of it All… enter HERE all those who delight in horror, death, the macabre, the occult, black humor, weird tales, dark fantasy – and all such nefarious pleasures.

Subscribe to this blog to keep updated on all my articles, stories, reviews and publications – or follow me on Twitter HERE.

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Swords and Sorcery Fantasy Movie Review: Jason and the Argonauts (UK/USA, 1963)

Posted by Harbinger451 on January 5, 2022

Jason and the Argonauts

The Horror of it All CategoryA Harbinger451 Swords & Sorcery Fantasy Movie Review:

Jason and the Argonauts (UK/USA, 1963)

Tagline: Greatest Odyssey Of The Ages – for the first time on the screen | SEE! The Adventure That Stunned the World…And the Mighty Men Who Conquered It! | The epic story that was destined to stand as a colossus of adventure!
Content Rating: PG – for fantasy/adventure violence with some blood and some mild horror.
Director: Don Chaffey
Production Co: Morningside Productions & Columbia Pictures.
Runtime: 1hr 44min.

Special effects god Ray Harryhausen regarded this joint British/American production as his best film, rightly in my opinion. Filmed on location in and around Salerno in Italy with studio work carried out in the S. A. F. A. Studios in Rome and Shepperton Studios in Surrey, England. It is a rather loose retelling of the myth regarding the Greek hero Jason, played by Todd Armstrong, and his quest to secure the fabled Golden Fleece from King Aeëtes of Colchis (Jack Gwillim).

Jason is the son of King Aristo of Thessaly. While Jason is an infant, his father is murdered by Pelias (Douglas Wilmer), who usurps the throne. Because of a prophecy that states that one of Aristo’s children will avenge the murder, the young Jason is spirited away by one of Aristo’s loyal soldiers for his protection. A daughter of Aristo seeks refuge at the temple of Hera but is slain by Pelias. This angers the goddess Hera (Honor Blackman), so she warns Pelias to beware of “a one-sandaled man” and becomes the protector of Jason.

As an adult, Jason saves Pelias from drowning in an “accident” orchestrated by Hera but does not realize that he has saved the man who killed his father. Jason loses a sandal during the rescue, so Pelias recognizes him as an enemy. Pelias encourages Jason to search for the Golden Fleece, which the young man can use to rally support against the usurper, knowing full well that the notoriously difficult endeavour will likely result in the hero’s death.

Jason and the Argonauts
The Argonauts encounter the giant “living” statue Talos on the “Isle of Bronze”.

Jason has a ship, the Argo, built and piloted by Argus (Laurence Naismith), and heroes from all over Greece compete to be included in his crew of Argonauts. Including Hercules (Nigel Green), Hylas (John Cairney), Phalerus (Andrew Faulds), and the twins, Castor (Ferdinando Poggi) and Polydeuces/Pollux (John Crawford). Acastus (Gary Raymond) also manages to join the crew; unknown to Jason, he is the son of Pelias and is determined to sabotage the quest.

Jason and the Argonauts are variously aided by the goddess Hera, and the gods Zeus (Niall MacGinnis), Hermes (Michael Gwynn) and Triton (Bill Gudgeon). The heroes seek out the advice of blind Phineus (Patrick Troughton), who is tormented by harpies as punishment for misusing his gift of prophecy, on how to find Colchis. Medea (Nancy Kovack), a sorcerous priestess and the daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis, falls in love with Jason once he gets there and helps him attain his golden goal.

Jason and the Argonauts
Phineus is tormented by harpies as punishment for misusing his gift of prophecy.

Although critically acclaimed, it barely made its $3,000,000 budget back at its initial release and was a box office disappointment, which just blows my mind. Perhaps it came too soon after the Steve Reeves film Hercules (Italy, 1958), which covered much of the same mythological ground. Jason and the Argonauts has since, of course, gone on to be considered an absolute cult classic with so many thrilling scenes now accepted as iconic in the history of fantasy cinema.

An early working title for this movie was Sinbad and the Age of Muses. It was originally envisioned as a follow-up to the very successful The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (USA, 1958) and would have had Sinbad join Jason on his voyage aboard the Argo (despite about 2000 years between their supposed lifetimes). The Sinbad angle was soon dropped, though. The working title became Jason and the Golden Fleece before being finalised.

The Argo, modelled after an ancient Greek Warship, was built over a fishing boat powered by three large Mercedes engines that cost roughly 10% of the film’s budget. The ship was later sold to 20th Century-Fox and used in their historical epic, Cleopatra (USA, 1963).

Jason and the Argonauts
Triton helps the passage of the Argo and her crew through the Clashing Rocks.

This movie is replete with elements that are not entirely consistent with the actual myths, but that doesn’t really matter. Most of the changes make a more cogent, exciting and streamlined narrative or present a more visually arresting scenario. In the mythology, the giant bronze automaton, Talos, was encountered on the return journey after gaining the Golden Fleece, not before, and it guarded Crete, not the “Isle of Bronze”. Hylas wasn’t crushed by the defeated and falling Talos but was seduced and kidnapped by one or more water nymphs who fell in love with him as he drew water from a spring. As in the film, Hercules did leave the Argonauts because of the mysterious disappearance, determined to find out what happened to his beloved friend.

The harpies were not caught and caged but were simply chased away. Triton did not aid the Argo‘s passage through the Clashing Rocks; Athena gave the ship an extra push so it could speed between the cliffs before they closed.

The Golden Fleece was not guarded by a hydra, but by a dragon, and Jason did not slay it, Medea cast a sleep spell on it. It wasn’t skeletons that were sown from the dragon’s teeth, it was the Spartoi (sown men), and Jason did not fight them directly, he tricked them into fighting each other. Castor and Phalerus were not killed by the skeletons/Spartoi, they both survived the many adventures of the Argonauts.

Jason and the Argonauts
Jason must deal with the Hydra before he can safely claim the Golden Fleece.

The TV mini-series Jason and the Argonauts (USA, 2000) is by far a more faithful adaptation of the myth, but it is nowhere near as entertaining as this movie. Despite the divergence from myth, or perhaps because of it, no self-respecting fantasy fan can afford to miss this classic 1963 fantasy film.

Technical Rating: 9/10
(From a Basic Score of 7.5 [Plot = 0.5; Characters = 0.5; Dialogue = 0.5; Acting = 0.5; Costumes & Styling = 0.5; Props & Sets = 1; Locations = 1; Cinematography = 1; Visual & Sound Effects = 1; Musical Score = 1]; plus a Genre Bonus of 1.5 for all the stupendous special effects (for the time), including the iconic scenes of the giant bronze statue Talos coming to life, of the harpies tormenting Phineus, Triton holding the Clashing Rocks apart, the Hydra guarding the Golden Fleece, and the battle with the skeletal warriors – all bringing Greek Mythology to life like never before.)

Check out the technicalities of my Movie Rating System HERE.

Jason and the Argonauts
Jason and his mates fight off some animated skeletons. Possibly one of the most iconic scenes in fantasy movie history.

Buy Jason and the Argonauts (1963) in the UK

Buy Jason and the Argonauts (1963) in the US

Check out my list of notable Swords & Sorcery Fantasy Movies HERE.

The Horror of it All… enter HERE all those who delight in horror, death, the macabre, the occult, black humor, weird tales, dark fantasy – and all such nefarious pleasures.

Subscribe to this blog to keep updated on all my articles, stories, reviews and publications – or follow me on Twitter HERE.

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Copyright © 2022 Harbinger451 – All Rights Reserved


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Swords and Sorcery Fantasy Movie Review: Deathstalker (Argentina/USA, 1983)

Posted by Harbinger451 on January 4, 2022

Deathstalker Movie Poster

The Horror of it All CategoryA Harbinger451 Swords & Sorcery Fantasy Movie Review:

Deathstalker (Argentina/USA, 1983)

Tagline: The Might of the Sword… The Evil of the Sorcerer…
Content Rating: 15 – for nudity, sexuality, rape, bloody violence and drunkeness.
Director: James Sbardellati
Production Co: Aries Cinematográfica & Roger Corman’s New World Pictures.
Runtime: 1hr 20min.

It’s tempting to say this is just another dumb and trashy titty-palooza barbarian exploitation film produced by Roger Corman in the 80s, but that is kind of selling it short. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a cheap and tacky Conan wannabe that borders on the sleazy and nasty … but it has a certain flair for action and violence, and it doesn’t let its low budget limit its ambition.

The egotistical, amoral and intellectually challenged titular barbarian (Rick Hill) is possibly the most uncharismatic and unlikable “hero” I’ve ever encountered (to call him an antihero still wouldn’t come close), but it is kind of refreshing in a perverse sort of way. You don’t often get morally ambiguous protagonists that can give the villain of the piece a run for his money in the despicable douche-bag stakes.

The plot may seem a little random at first, but eventually, some sense materializes. A wandering barbarian chancer, dressed in bits of shammy-leather and sporting an unconvincing scratty blonde wig, is tasked by an old witch to retrieve a chalice, an amulet, and a sword. The chalice and amulet are held by the evil warlord/sorcerer Munkar (Bernard Erhard), while the sword has been hidden away by the old witch herself in a cave guarded by an ogre and an imp.

Deathstalker
Deathstalker’s opening scene lets you know straight away what to expect. All of the males in this shot are killed in the first ten minutes by our hero. The female is at first rescued and then harassed by him too.

Deathstalker retrieves the sword first, defeating the ogre with help from the imp, who reveals himself to be the thief Salmaron, cursed by the witch. When the curse is lifted, Salmaron (now Augusto Larreta) agrees to accompany Deathstalker on his journey to Munkar’s castle. Along the way, they pick up two other wandering adventurers, a buff and charming Oghris (Richard Brooker) and a very scantily clad Kaira (Lana Clarkson).

It becomes clear that the best way into Munkar’s heavily guarded stronghold is to attend a tournament he is holding to find the best warrior in the land … a bit like Enter the Dragon (Hong Kong/USA, 1973) but way less well-staged and choreographed.

There’s a tangential sub-plot about a kidnapped Princess (ex-Playboy playmate and recording artist Barbi Benton) being held against her will by Munkar, that intersects with the main plot on occasion.

Deathstalker
An imp offers Deathstalker (yes, that’s his name apparently) some advice regarding an ogre.

The best thing about Deathstalker the movie is that it packs as much as it can into its brief runtime, heads will roll and boobs will be exposed, and at least it tries to be funny. It doesn’t always succeed with the intentional laughs, though. There are way more guffaws to be had from the unintentional, for the ineptitude of almost every facet of this film is quite staggering.

So, if in the name of a few cheap laughs and giggles, you can stomach an amateurish, and rather rapey, Barbarian flick that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, then this mouldy hunk of cheese might just be the ripe gorgonzola your looking for.

Deathstalker
Princess Barbi Benton is harassed by a hogman while Rick Hill, Lana Clarkson and a whole bunch of other barbarian types look on.

The commercial success of this film, with an estimated budget of $457,000 and Box office takings of $11,919,250, pathed the way for three sequels; Deathstalker II (Argentina/USA, 1987), Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell (Mexico/USA, 1988), and Deathstalker IV: Match of Titans (USA, 1991). Rick Hill reprised his role in only the latter of these, a film that would liberally re-use stock footage from this, the first. Corman had already re-used stock footage from Deathstalker, along with some from Sorceress (Mexico/USA, 1982), in his utterly terrible children’s fantasy movie Wizards of the Lost Kingdom (Argentina/USA, 1985).

This first Deathstalker movie also launched the career of Lana Clarkson, who became a recognizable cult celebrity in the genre. Clarkson later worked with Roger Corman on the similarly themed Barbarian Queen (Argentina/USA, 1985) and Barbarian Queen II (Mexico/USA, 1992). This was also the first in a slew of films that Corman made in Argentina.

Deathstalker
Munkar, evil warlord and sorcerer, toys with one of his victims.

Deathstalker and its first sequel took on the status of cult classics after the video versions became staples during the fledgling days of cable television and video rentals. Rentals and sales were definitely aided by the massive misrepresentation of actual content by the slick Boris Vallejo artwork used in the posters and covers for these movies. Believe me, any similarity between the characters in the Boris paintings used and the characters in the films concerned is entirely coincidental.

Recommended for aficionados of cult film, for slaves to sword and sorcery movies, and teenage boys everywhere.

Technical Rating: 4/10
(From a Basic Score of 3 [Plot = 0.5; Characters = 0.5; Dialogue = 0.5; Acting = 0; Costumes & Styling = 0; Props & Sets = 0; Locations = 0.5; Cinematography = 0.5; Visual & Sound Effects = 0; Musical Score = 0.5]; plus a Genre Bonus of 1 for the hog-headed brute, for the unrelenting action and pace, and for the shear (if misguided) ambition of the thing.)

Check out the technicalities of my Movie Rating System HERE.

Deathstalker
Deathstalker gets a chance to take on the hulking hogman during the tournament.

Buy Deathstalker (1983) in the UK

Buy Deathstalker (1983) in the US

Check out my list of notable Swords & Sorcery Fantasy Movies HERE.

The Horror of it All… enter HERE all those who delight in horror, death, the macabre, the occult, black humor, weird tales, dark fantasy – and all such nefarious pleasures.

Subscribe to this blog to keep updated on all my articles, stories, reviews and publications – or follow me on Twitter HERE.

Harbinger451.co.uk

Copyright © 2022 Harbinger451 – All Rights Reserved


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Swords and Sorcery Fantasy Movie Review: Hawk the Slayer (UK, 1980)

Posted by Harbinger451 on January 3, 2022

Hawk the Slayer

The Horror of it All CategoryA Harbinger451 Swords & Sorcery Fantasy Movie Review:

Hawk the Slayer (UK, 1980)

Tagline: Two brothers locked in deadly combat till the end of time!
Content Rating: PG – for mild fantasy action/adventure violence and some mild horror.
Director: Terry Marcel
Production Co: ITC Entertainment, Marcel/Robertson Productions Ltd & Chips Productions.
Runtime: 1hr 34min.

This movie is the very definition of a Sword and Sorcery cult classic. It’s a cheap but moderately effective “spaghetti-western” style fantasy film. Made by the British and with two Yank actors starring. One was a seasoned veteran, Jack Palance, and the other was just starting out, John Terry. The two writers, director Terry Marcel and producer Harry Robertson, were inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (Japan, 1961), Sergio Leone’s Fistful of Dollars (Italy, 1964) and, of course, the sword and sorcery fiction of Robert E. Howard. I think also that this movie owes more than a passing nod to the Hammer horror-fantasy Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (UK, 1974). Which, directed by Brian Clemens, has the same “spaghetti-western” feel and droll humour, but with a higher budget and a much darker and more violent plot. Hawk the Slayer has plenty of action, but being aimed at a slightly younger audience, it has little blood to show for it. It is great fun though, and not a little weird.

I think the writers must also have been aware of the then recent boom in fantasy table-top roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons because the script runs a bit like someone wrote out their recent gaming sessions. It comes off as a series of random encounters undertaken to build an adventuring party and then strung together into a narrative. Although a small scale film, there are many allusions to a much wider and more complicated fictional world. It is constantly trying to establish that what you are experiencing is just a narrow snapshot of a much broader saga.

Hawk the Slayer
One of the many random encounters with delightfully strange and disparate characters.

The two stars are supposed to be brothers, but Jack Palance, playing Voltan the evil brother, was 60 and John Terry, playing Hawk the good brother, was 30 when the film was made. Ferdy Mayne, who briefly appears as their father, was 64. Voltan could easily have been made Hawk’s evil uncle. It wouldn’t change the plot at all, but it would have made much more sense than them being brothers.

The plot involves Voltan terrorizing the land and its populace on behalf of some all-powerful evil dark lord. When he kidnaps a (not Christian) Abbess (Annette Crosbie) for ransom, her underling nuns send Ranulf (W. Morgan Sheppard), a man they had nursed back to health after Voltan wiped out his village, to the High Abbot (Harry Andrews) for help. The Abbot sends Ranulf on to a chap called Hawk the Slayer, who wields a magic “Mind Sword”. Hawk assembles a team of old friends: Gort (Bernard Bresslaw), a dour giant with a mighty mallet; Crow (Ray Charleson), an elf of few words who wields a deadly bow; and Baldin (Peter O’Farrell), a wisecracking dwarf skilled with a whip. There’s an unnamed blind sorceress (Patricia Quinn) that aids him and a whole variety of odd and interesting characters that we bump into along the way as our hero journeys to deal with his wicked brother, Voltan.

Hawk the Slayer
Hawk assembles his party of adventurers and gets ready for action.

Hawk the Slayer was shot in Buckinghamshire over six weeks and with a budget of £600,000. It has more than adequate costumes, passable locations and a few (barely) decent sets. The shonky special effects are atrocious, and the disco style electronic score is often painful to hear. Palance knows he’s in a piece of schlock and over-acts mercilessly, while an equally aware Terry comes off as sullen and is as wooden as a board. It’s amazing that the rest of the cast, mostly well known UK character actors from 70s TV and movies, don’t crack up while delivering this hokey nonsense under such conditions, but, against the odds, they manage to keep straight-faced like the true professionals they are. Look out for Cheryl Campbell, Catriona MacColl, Shane Briant, Roy Kinnear, Patrick Magee, Graham Stark and Warren Clarke.

Just when the movie was scheduled for release in the United States, ITC, the film’s distribution company, went bust and so it never made it to theatres there. And despite an initial negative reception on its UK theatrical release it went on to a moderate, and long-lasting, success in the TV and Home Video markets all around the world, and ultimately achieved cult status despite the theatrical setbacks.

Hawk the Slayer
Voltan and his henchmen harass a couple of tavern patrons.

For fantasy fans of a certain age, like myself, it is hard to put aside a nostalgia-fueled love for this movie and look at it with critical eyes. It is undoubtedly a bad movie, but its charm and humour (intentional or not) win through … it literally is “so bad it’s good”. A “guilty pleasure” if ever there was one. Hawk the Slayer came out right at the start of the 1980s bonanza in swords and sorcery flicks, so it pre-empted the bigger budget hits like Dragonslayer (UK/USA,1981), Conan the Barbarian (USA, 1982) and The Sword and the Sorcerer (USA, 1982). Perhaps if it had come along just a little later, more would have been invested in it, and it might have made a bigger splash. Bernard Bresslaw, of “Carry On” fame and who had already appeared in the comedy fantasy Jabberwocky (UK, 1977) as The Landlord, would go on to play Rell the Cyclops in Krull (UK/USA, 1983), a similar role to his Gort the giant in this movie.

Many complain that Hawk the Slayer has the air of an episode in a series or a middle movie in a trilogy. I quite like that it suggests more than is there. Life went on in this film’s world before the movie ever started and life will go on long after it has finished. There has been plenty of talk regarding potential prequels and/or sequels over the years since its making, but none of it has come to much more than that so far.

Hawk the Slayer
What is it with bad-guys and red hot pokers … perverts, the lot of them.

This movie is not only one for swords and sorcery nerds though, it’s also for lovers of truly awful movies everywhere and kids of all ages, young and old. If you tick all three, you’ll be in heaven. I have to say, when I was putting together the images for this review, it became apparent that, despite its cheapness, a lot of the scenes were very carefully composed for visual impact, as if each was staged with a potential publicity shot in mind.

Technical Rating: 5/10
(From a Basic Score of 4.5 [Plot = 0.5; Characters = 1; Dialogue = 0.5; Acting = 0.5; Costumes & Styling = 0.5; Props & Sets = 0.5; Locations = 0.5; Cinematography = 0.5; Visual & Sound Effects = 0; Musical Score = 0]; minus a Quality Penalty of 0.5 for some bad editing; plus a Genre Bonus of 1 for Jack Palance hamming it up, and for featuring a very DnD fantasy RPG party of adventurers that includes a pointy eared elf, a somewhat diminutive dwarf and a not so giant … giant)

Check out the technicalities of my Movie Rating System HERE.

Hawk the Slayer
The oh-so mysterious dark lord makes one of his oh-so mysterious appearances.

Buy Hawk the Slayer (1980) in the UK

Buy Hawk the Slayer (1980) in the US

Check out my list of notable Swords & Sorcery Fantasy Movies HERE.

The Horror of it All… enter HERE all those who delight in horror, death, the macabre, the occult, black humor, weird tales, dark fantasy – and all such nefarious pleasures.

Subscribe to this blog to keep updated on all my articles, stories, reviews and publications – or follow me on Twitter HERE.

Harbinger451.co.uk

Copyright © 2022 Harbinger451 – All Rights Reserved


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List of Notable Swords & Sorcery Fantasy Movies: the good & the bad, the best & the worst.

Posted by Harbinger451 on January 2, 2022

The Horror of it All CategoryNotable Swords and Sorcery Fantasy Movies: the good and the bad, the best and the worst.

As far as this list is concerned, the Sword and Sorcery film genre includes heroic, epic or dark fantasies taking place in a (mostly) pre-industrialised, historical or pseudo-historical setting. They must be tales of high adventure and (generally) feature magical, mythical or supernatural beasts, beings or occurrences. Films on this list may occasionally cross over into horror and, to a lesser extent, science fiction, but they will remain at heart a fantasy. I make no apologies for including some biblical movies that fit the criteria. I don’t care what anyone says; the Old Testament stories especially are just as much a fantasy as Greek, Roman, Norse or any other myth.

Jason and the Agronauts (1963) 02

Jason and the Agronauts (1963). A classic old-school fantasy movie if ever there was one.

I won’t be including animated movies and those overly targeted at younger children because, well, I’m just not interested in them. I like my fantasy to be live-action and as “realistic”, visually and tonally, as possible. I want to see fantastic things that convince me of their reality or are at least convincing enough to allow for the suspension of disbelief within the confines or context of a movie.

Admittedly, that might be quite a stretch for many of these movies, especially considering the meagre resources available to most fantasy productions over the years. So, I’m very appreciative of the flicks that can, or at least try to, transcend the limitations of their available technology, time and budget to fashion as convincing a fantasy as they could muster. I can also appreciate the glorious failures in this regard and those that are “so bad they’re good” because they’ve gone so far beyond simple ineptitude and have accidentally strayed into outright farse … believe me, there will be plenty of those. Besides the theatrical releases, this list will include TV movies and those released directly to home-video or streaming services, as well as some select TV series.

I intend on reviewing every one of the films/shows listed below as and when I get to them. If all goes to plan, each entry on the list will ultimately link to a review post. Those titles prefixed by a * are the movies I have somehow missed (or forgotten) in my long life of viewing motion pictures and are essentially in my “to-be-watched” pile, so long as I can source a copy of them.

Excalibur (1981)

1981’s Excalibur was one of the big budget fantasy movie hits that heralded a boon for, and boom in, sword and sorcery flics during the 1980s.

List of notable Swords and Sorcery Fantasy Movies:

The Golem (Paul Wegener/Carl Boese, Weimar Republic, 1921)
* The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille, USA, 1923) [First 50 mins only]
* Die Nibelungen (Fritz Lang, Weimar Republic, 1924)
* The Thief of Bagdad (Raoul Walsh, USA, 1924)
The Thief of Bagdad (Michael Powell/Ludwig Berger/Tim Whelan, UK, 1940)
* The Iron Crown (Alessandro Blasetti, Italy, 1941)
* Kashchey the Immortal (Aleksandr Rou, USSR, 1945)
Samson and Delilah (Cecil B. DeMille, USA, 1949)
* The Magic Sword (Vojislav Nanović, Yugoslavia, 1950)
Knights of the Round Table (Richard Thorpe, UK/USA, 1953)
* Prince Valiant (Henry Hathaway, USA, 1954)
Ulysses (Mario Camerini, Italy/France/USA, 1954)
Helen of Troy (Robert Wise, Italy/France/USA, 1956)
* Ilya Muromets (Aleksandr Ptushko, USSR, 1956)
The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille, USA, 1956)
* Torawakamaru, the Koga Ninja (Tadashi Sawashima, Japan, 1957)
* Hercules (Pietro Francisci, Italy, 1958)
The Vikings (Richard Fleischer, USA, 1958)
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (Nathan H. Juran, USA, 1958)
* Hercules Unchained (Pietro Francisci, France/Italy, 1959)
* Minotaur, the Wild Beast of Crete (Silvio Amadio, Italy, 1960)
* Hercules in the Haunted World (Mario Bava, Italy, 1961)
* The Thief of Baghdad (Arthur Lubin, Italy/France/USA, 1961)
* The Trojan Horse (Giorgio Ferroni, Italy/France/Yugoslavia, 1961)
* Duel of the Titans (Sergio Corbucci, Italy/France, 1961)
The Magic Sword (Bert I. Gordon, USA, 1962)
Jack the Giant Killer (Nathan H. Juran, USA, 1962)
* The Avenger (Giorgio Venturini, Italy/France/Yugoslavia, 1962)
Lancelot and Guinevere (Cornel Wilde, UK, 1963)
Jason and the Argonauts (Don Chaffey, UK/USA, 1963) REVIEWED
The Gorgon (Terence Fisher, UK, 1964)
* The Magic Serpent (Tetsuya Yamanouchi, Japan, 1966)
* Die Nibelungen (Harald Reinl, West Germany, 1966-67)
Viy (Konstantin Yershov/Georgi Kropachyov, USSR, 1967)
* Ruslan and Ludmila (Aleksandr Ptushko, USSR, 1972)
Gawain and the Green Knight (Stephen Weeks, UK, 1973)
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (Gordon Hessler, UK/USA, 1973)
Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (Brian Clemens, UK, 1974)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Gilliam/Terry Jones, UK, 1975)
Jabberwocky (Terry Gilliam, UK, 1977)
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (Sam Wanamaker, UK/USA, 1977)
The Thief of Baghdad (Clive Donner, France/UK, 1978)
Saiyūki AKA Monkey (Wu Cheng’en, Japan, 1978-80) [TV Series]
Arabian Adventure (Kevin Connor, UK, 1979)
Hawk the Slayer (Terry Marcel, UK, 1980) REVIEWED
Encounters of the Spooky Kind (Sammo Hung, Hong Kong, 1980)
Excalibur (John Boorman, UK/USA, 1981)
The Archer: Fugative from the Empire (Nicholas J. Corea, USA, 1981) [TV Movie] REVIEWED
Clash of the Titans (Desmond Davis, UK/USA, 1981) REVIEWED
Time Bandits (Terry Gilliam, UK, 1981)
Dragonslayer (Matthew Robbins, UK/USA, 1981)
Conan the Barbarian (John Milius, USA, 1982)
The Sword and the Sorcerer (Albert Pyun, USA, 1982)
Sorceress (Jack Hill, USA/Mexico, 1982)
* The Miracle Fighters (Yuen Woo-ping, Hong Kong, 1982)
The Beastmaster (Don Coscarelli, USA/West Germany, 1982)
* Gunan, King of the Barbarians (Franco Prosperi, Italy, 1982)
* Ator, The Fighting Eagle (Joe D’Amato, Italy, 1982)
* Sangraal: Sword of the Barbarians (Michele Massimo Tarantini, Italy, 1982)
Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain (Tsui Hark, Hong Kong, 1983)
* Thor the Conqueror (Tonino Ricci, Italy, 1983)
* The Throne of Fire (Franco Prosperi, Italy, 1983)
Krull (Peter Yates, UK/USA, 1983)
* Hundra (Matt Cimber, Italy/Spain/USA, 1983)
Deathstalker (James Sbardellati, Argentina/USA, 1983) REVIEWED
* Conquest (Lucio Fulci, Italy/Spain/Mexico, 1983)
* Hercules (Luigi Cozzi, Italy/USA, 1983)
* Hearts and Armour (Giacomo Battiato, Italy, 1983)
Conan the Destroyer (Richard Fleischer, USA, 1984)
The Warrior and the Sorceress (John C. Broderick, Argentina/USA, 1984)
* Ator 2: The Blade Master (Joe D’Amato, Italy, 1984)
Sword of the Valiant (Stephen Weeks, UK, 1984)
Robin of Sherwood (Richard Carpenter, UK, 1984-86) [TV Series]
* Barbarian Queen (Héctor Olivera, Argentina/USA, 1985)
Ladyhawke (Richard Donner, USA, 1985)
* Merlin and the Sword (Clive Donner, USA/Yugoslavia, 1985) [TV Movie]
* The Adventures of Hercules (Luigi Cozzi, Italy/USA, 1985)
Red Sonja (Richard Fleischer, Netherlands/USA, 1985)
Mr Vampire (Ricky Lau, Hong Kong, 1985)
Legend (Ridley Scott, USA, 1985)
Highlander (Russell Mulcahy, UK, 1986)
* Amazons (Alejandro Sessa, Argentina/USA, 1986)
* Ator 3: Iron Warrior (Alfonso Brescia, Italy, 1987)
* The Barbarians (Ruggero Deodato, Iraly/USA, 1987)
* Gor (Fritz Kiersch, South Africa/USA, 1987)
A Chinese Ghost Story (Ching Siu-tung, Hong Kong, 1987)
The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, USA, 1987)
* Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans (Jim Wynorski, Argentina/USA, 1987)
Willow (Ron Howard, USA, 1988)
* Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell (Alfonso Corona, Mexico/USA, 1988)
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (Terry Gilliam, Germany/UK/USA, 1988)
* Sinbad of the Seven Seas (Enzo G. Castellari, Italy/USA, 1989)
* Outlaw of Gor (John Cardos, Canada/South Africa/USA, 1989)
Encounters of the Spooky Kind II (Ricky Lau, Hong Kong, 1990)
* Deathstalker IV: Match of Titans (Howard R. Cohen, USA, 1990)
A Chinese Ghost Story II (Ching Siu-tung, Hong Kong, 1990)
* Ator 4: Quest for the Mighty Sword (Joe D’Amato, Italy, 1990)
The Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time (Sylvio Tabet, France/USA, 1991)
* Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back (Joe Finley, Mexico/USA, 1992) [Straight-to-Video]
New Mr Vampire (Billy Chan, Hong Kong, 1992)
Army of Darkness (Sam Raimi, USA, 1992)
* Orochi, the Eight-Headed Dragon (Takao Okawara, Japan, 1994)
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (Christian Williams, New Zealand/USA, 1994-99) [TV Movies & Series]
Xena: Warrior Princess (New Zealand/USA, 1995-2002) [TV Series]
Beastmaster III: The Eye of Braxus (Gabrielle Beaumont, USA, 1996) [TV Movie]
* Dragonheart (Rob Cohen, Slovakia/UK/USA, 1996)
* The Adventures of Sinbad (Ed Naha, Canada, 1996-98) [TV Series]
The Odyssey (Andrei Konchalovsky, USA, 1997) [TV Mini-Series]
Kull the Conqueror (John Nicolella, Italy/USA, 1997)
* Prince Valiant (Anthony Hickox, Germany/Ireland/UK, 1997)
Conan the Adventurer (Germany/Mexico/USA, 1997-98) [TV Series]
Merlin (Steve Barron, UK/USA, 1998) [TV Mini-Series]
* The Storm Riders (Andrew Lau, Hong Kong, 1998)
The 13th Warrior (John McTiernan, USA, 1999)
Gormenghast (Andy Wilson, UK, 2000) [TV Mini-Series]
Arabian Nights (Germany/Turkey/Jordan/USA, 2000) [TV Mini-Series]
Jason and the Argonauts (Nick Willing, USA, 2000) [TV Mini-Series]
Dungeons & Dragons (Courtney Solomon, Czech Republic/USA, 2000)
Brotherhood of the Wolf (Christophe Gans, France, 2001)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson, New Zealand/USA, 2001)
The Scorpion King (Chuck Russell, Belgium/Germany/USA, 2002)
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Peter Jackson, New Zealand/USA, 2002)
Helen of Troy (John Kent Harrison, UK/USA, 2003) [TV Mini-Series]
* Barbarian (Chris Sivertson, USA, 2003) [Straight-to-Video]
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Gore Verbinski, USA, 2003)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Peter Jackson, New Zealand/USA, 2003)
Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King (Uli Edel, Germany, 2004) [TV Mini-Series]
Shaolin Vs. Evil Dead (Douglas Kung, Hong Kong, 2004)
Van Helsing (Stephen Sommers, Czech Republic/USA, 2004)
Troy (Wolfgang Petersen, Malta/UK/USA, 2004)
* Legend of Earthsea (Robert Lieberman, Canada/USA, 2004) [TV Mini-Series]
Beowulf & Grendel (Sturla Gunnarsson, Canada/Iceland, 2005)
Hercules (Roger Young, USA, 2005) [TV Mini-Series]
Dungeons & Dragons 2: Wrath of the Dragon God (Gerry Lively, USA, 2005) [TV Movie]
The Brothers Grimm (Terry Gilliam, Czech Republic/UK/USA, 2005)
Minotaur (Jonathan English, France/Germany/Italy/Luxemburg/Spain/UK/USA, 2006)
* Merlin’s Apprentice (David Wu, Canada/USA, 2006) [TV Mini-Series]
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (Gore Verbinski, USA, 2006)
* Dragon (Leigh Scott, USA, 2006) [Straight-to-Video]
Eragon (Stefen Fangmeier, UK/USA, 2006)
Wolfhound of the Grey Hound Clan (Nikolai Lebedev, Russia, 2006)
* Shaolin Vs. Evil Dead: Ultimate Power (Douglas Kung, Hong Kong, 2006)
300 (Zack Snyder, USA, 2007)
In the Name of the King (Uwe Boll, Canada/Germany/USA, 2007)
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (Gore Verbinski, USA, 2007)
10,000 BC (Roland Emmerich, USA, 2008)
* Odysseus: Voyage to the Underworld (Terry Ingram, Canada/Romania/UK, 2008) [TV Movie]
* The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior (Russell Mulcahy, USA, 2008) [Straight-to-Video]
The Forbidden Kingdom (Rob Minkoff, China/USA, 2008)
Outlander (Howard McCain, Czech Republic/France/Germany/USA, 2008)
I Sell the Dead (Glenn McQuaid, USA, 2008)
* Merlin and the War of the Dragons (Mark Atkins, UK/USA, 2008) [Straight-to-Video]
Knights Of Bloodsteel (Sam Egan, Canada/USA, 2009) [TV Mini-Series]
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (Patrick Tatopoulos, USA, 2009)
* Goemon (Kazuaki Kiriya, Japan, 2009)
* Thor: Hammer of the Gods (Todor “Toshko” Chapkanov, USA, 2009) [TV Movie]
Dragonquest (Mark Atkins, USA, 2009) [Straight-to-Video]
* Merlin and the Book of Beasts (Warren P. Sonoda, Canada, 2009) [TV Movie]
Solomon Kane (M. J. Bassett, Czech Republic/France/UK, 2009)
* The Storm Warriors (Danny Pang/Oxide Pang, Hong Kong, 2009)
Legend of the Seeker (Stephen Tolkin/Kenneth Biller, New Zealand/USA, 2009-10) [TV Series]
Clash of the Titans (Louis Leterrier, Australia/USA, 2010)
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Mike Newell, USA, 2010)
Dragon Age: Redemption (Peter Winther, USA, 2011) [Web Series]
Season of the Witch (Dominic Sena, USA, 2011)
Age of the Dragons (Ryan Little, USA, 2011) [Straight-to-Video]
Your Highness (David Gordon Green, USA, 2011)
* Sinbad and the Minotaur (Karl Zwicky, Australia, 2011)
* Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Rob Marshall, USA, 2011)
Conan the Barbarian (Marcus Nispel, USA, 2011)
* Paladin: Dawn of the Dragonslayer (Richard McWilliams, USA, 2011)
* Jabberwock (Steven R. Monroe, Canada/USA, 2011) [TV Movie]
* Dragon Crusaders (Mark Atkins, USA, 2011) [Straight-to-Video]
Immortals (Tarsem Singh, Canada/UK/USA, 2011)
* In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds (Uwe Boll, Canada/USA, 2011) [Straight-to-Video]
Game of Thrones (David Benioff/D.B. Weiss, UK/USA, 2011-19) [TV Series]
* The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption (Roel Reine, USA, 2012) [Straight-to-Video]
Snow White and the Huntsman (Rupert Sanders, USA, 2012)
Wrath of the Titans (Jonathan Liebesman, Spain/USA, 2012)
Dungeons & Dragons 3: The Book Of Vile Darkness (Gerry Lively, UK, 2012) [Straight-to-Video]
* Clash of Empires (Joseph J. Lawson, USA, 2012)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Peter Jackson, New Zealand/USA, 2012)
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (Tommy Wirkola, Germany/USA, 2013)
Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (Stephen Chow/Derek Kwok, China/Hong Kong, 2013)
Jack the Giant Slayer (Bryan Singer, USA, 2013)
Vikings (Michael Hirst, Canada/Ireland, 2013-20) [TV Series]
* Mythica 1: A Quest For Heroes (Anne K. Black, USA, 2013) [Straight-to-Video]
SAGA: Curse Of The Shadow (John Lyde, USA, 2013) [Straight-to-Video]
* Paladin: The Crown and the Dragon (Anne K. Black, USA, 2013) [Straight-to-Video]
Vikingdom (Yusry Abdul Halim, Malaysia, 2013)
* 47 Ronin (Carl Rinsch, USA, 2013)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Peter Jackson, New Zealand/USA, 2013)
The Legend of Hercules (Renny Harlin, USA, 2014)
Noah (Darren Aronofsky, USA, 2014)
Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage (Shahin Sean Solimon, USA, 2014)
Viy: Forbidden Empire (Oleg Stepchenko, China/Czech Republic/Germany/Russia/Ukraine, 2014)
* In The Name of the King 3: The Last Mission (Uwe Boll, Canada/USA, 2014) [Straight-to-Video]
300: Rise of an Empire (Noam Murro, USA, 2014)
* Mythica 2: The Darkspore (Anne K. Black, USA, 2014) [Straight-to-Video]
Hercules (Brett Ratner, USA, 2014)
Seventh Son (Sergei Bodrov, USA, 2014)
Dracula Untold (Gary Shore, USA, 2014)
Northmen: A Viking Saga (Claudio Fäh, Germany/South Africa/Switzerland, 2014)
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Peter Jackson, New Zealand/USA, 2014)
Exodus: Gods and Kings (Ridley Scott, UK/USA, 2014)
* The Scorpion King 4: Quest For Power (Mike Elliott, USA, 2015) [Straight-to-Video]
* Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerers Curse (Colin Teague, USA, 2015) [Straight-to-Video]
* Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal (Peter Pau/Zhao Tianyu, China/Hong Kong/USA, 2015)
Last Knights (Kazuaki Kiriya, Czech Republic/South Korea/UK, 2015)
* Arthur & Merlin (Marco van Belle, UK, 2015)
* Mythica 3: The Necromancer (A. Todd Smith, USA, 2015) [Straight-to-Video]
* Baahubali: The Beginning (S. S. Rajamouli, India, 2015)
* Beowolf: Return to the Shieldlands (James Dormer, UK, 2016) [TV Series]
Gods of Egypt (Alex Proyas, Australia/USA, 2016)
* Dudes & Dragons (Maclain Nelson/Stephen Shimek, USA, 2016) [Straight-to-Video]
* Mythica 4: The Iron Crown (John Lyde, USA, 2016) [Straight-to-Video]
The Huntsman: Winter’s War (Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, USA, 2016)
Tale of Tales (Matteo Garrone, France/Italy/UK, 2016)
Warcraft (Duncan Jones, USA, 2016)
* Mythica 5: The Godslayer (John Lyde, USA, 2016) [Straight-to-Video]
* The Great Wall (Zhang Yimou, China/USA, 2016)
The Shannara Chronicles (Alfred Gough/Miles Millar, USA, 2016-18) [TV Series]
* Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back (Tsui Hark, China, 2017)
* Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (S. S. Rajamouli, India, 2017)
* King Arthur: Excalibur Rising (Antony Smith, UK, 2017)
* King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (Guy Ritchie, Australia/UK/USA, 2017)
* Dragonheart 4: Battle For The Heartfire (Patrik Syversen, USA, 2017) [Straight-to-Video]
* Wu Kong (Derek Kwok, China, 2017)
* Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Joachim Rønning/Espen Sandberg, USA, 2017)
Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (Paul Urkijo Alijo, France/Spain, 2017)
* The Thousand Faces of Dunjia (Woo-Ping Yuen, China, 2017)
* Furious (Dzhanik Fayziev/Ivan Shurkhovetskiy, Russia, 2017)
Gogol (Egor Baranov, Russia, 2017-2019) [TV Movies/Series]
Britannia (Jez Butterworth/Tom Butterworth/James Richardson, UK/USA, 2017-) [TV Series]
Samson (Bruce Macdonald, South Africa/USA, 2018)
The Scorpion King: Book of Souls (Don Michael Paul, USA, 2018) [Straight-to-Video]
The Head Hunter (Jordan Downey, USA, 2018)
* The Bastard Sword (Eveshka Ghost, UK, 2018)
Kingdom (South Korea, 2019-21) [Streaming TV Series]
Romulus v Remus: The First King (Matteo Rovere, Italy, 2019)
* Viy 2: Journey to China [aka Iron Mask] (Oleg Stepchenko, China/Russia, 2019)
* Jade Dynasty (Ching Siu-tung, China, 2019)
Draug (Klas Persson/Karin Engman, Sweden, 2019)
The Witcher (Poland/USA, 2019-) [Streaming TV Series]
* Dragonheart 5: Vengeance (Ivan Silvestrini, Romania/USA, 2020) [Straight-to-Video]
* The Thousand Faces of Dunjia 2: Fantasy Magician (Hesheng Xiang/Qiuliang Xiang, China, 2020)
* Ancestral World (Enrico De Palo, USA, 2020) [Straight-to-Video]
* Arthur & Merlin: Knights Of Camelot (Giles Alderson, UK, 2020) [Straight-to-Video]
The Green Knight (David Lowery, USA, 2021)
The Wheel of Time (Rafe Judkins, Ireland/USA, 2021) [Streaming TV Series]

If you feel there are any swords and sorcery fantasy movies that I’ve missed, or you take issue with the ones I haven’t, then please leave a comment by replying to this post below and I will respond forthwith.

The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

The first Lord of the Rings movie, The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), set the gold standard for fantasy movies in the new millennium.

Check out the technicalities of my Movie Rating System HERE.

The Horror of it All… enter HERE all those who delight in horror, death, the macabre, the occult, black humor, weird tales, dark fantasy – and all such nefarious pleasures.

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A Legacy of Dirt: The Shunned Place — A Tale of Lovecraftian Noir by Peter Guy Blacklock — Chapter One: Hell House on Haunted Hill

Posted by Harbinger451 on March 20, 2020

The Horror of it All CategoryA Legacy of Dirt: The Shunned Place — A Tale of Lovecraftian Noir by Peter Guy Blacklock — Chapter One: Hell House on Haunted Hill

Here I present to you a newly edited version of the first chapter to my Lovecraftian Horror, hard-boiled Noir mashup. An earlier draft of this chapter is available in the previous post HERE. Initially I was going to update that post with this new version, but then thought that some might find it useful or interesting to compare and contrast an early draft with a much later one that is close to, or might actually be, the final edit. Originally intended to be a novella (of about 40,000 words), this story may now have to be expanded into a short novel (of about 50,000 to 60,000 words) depending on how the rest of the writing and editing process goes.

I’ve also got lots of ideas for further stories involving the protagonist from this tale, so it may well end up as a series of stand-alone short novels, each titled under the main banner of A Legacy of Dirt follwed by their respective stand-alone titles. This first one, called The Shunned Place will explore various haunted house tropes. I’m toying with The Long Lament as a title for the second, for which I already have a cool idea exploring the tropes of cursed objects.

Before I get to the text of the chapter, here’s an initial mock-up of the proposed cover to get you in the mood…

TheShunnedPlacelEbookCoverSmall

Chapter One: Hell House on Haunted Hill

It was a dark and stormy night, so the cliché goes, and suddenly, as it oft continues, a shot rang out.

Of course, nights are invariably dark, but this one was particularly so, and the storm that raged was uncommonly vicious. It was the right sort of night for the wrong kind of outcome. The shot ripped a red-hot slug of metal through the rain-swept windscreen. It screamed past Lofty’s head, tearing a chunk of flesh and cartilage from the tip of his right ear. Lofty braked hard. The big Lincoln-Zephyr four-door sedan skidded and skewed to a halt down the sloping muddy lane. It veered toward a waterlogged ditch that lurked at the bottom of the incline where the backroad took a sharp left. The large automobile stopped short of the flooded trench with mere inches to spare.

Lofty could see nothing through the opaque fanning of fractured glass that was the holed windscreen. The wipers kept up their frenzied metronomic flailing regardless. The blackness through the rest of the car’s windows was almost complete, like mirrors reflecting a murderer’s soul. His hand instinctively rested on the butt of the snub-nosed Colt Detective Special in his shoulder holster. He listened, alarmed and alert. At that moment, the pounding of torrential rain and the gusting wail of the wind was all that he could hear. A sharp flash and flare of lightning split the sky with a massive crack of thunder. He caught a glimpse of a pale and sodden young woman stumbling toward him down the backwoods lane.

Winding the window down on his left, Lofty reversed and turned the Lincoln to shine its headlights up toward her. He leaned out, peering into the tempestuous downpour. The bedraggled woman, dressed in a sheer white gown entirely unsuitable for a night such as this, staggered toward the twin beams. Her distress was evident in her gaunt and distraught face. The woman stumbled and fell hard to her knees just short of Lofty’s car. She stared wide-eyed at him, her big beautiful eyes pleading and begging hands outstretched.

“God damn it!” Lofty exclaimed under his breath, acutely aware that another shot could come tearing his way at any moment. The big man, lean and muscular, got out of the car and bundled the slight and shivering woman up in his arms. Hunkering low, he carried her slim and — he couldn’t help but notice — shapely form to the expansive back seat of the Lincoln. He wrapped her in the blanket that spread along that seat.

“Hit a tree!” She said between gasps and shivers. He got in beside her and leant forward over the front seat to close the side window. “Tire blew out,” she continued, “lost control and hit a tree!”

She didn’t look like she had any injuries, except for a pair of grazed knees. Lofty pulled a hip-flask from his jacket pocket and offered it to her. “Here, Sister,” he said, “have a snort of sour-mash; it’ll take the edge off.”

She took the flask with a half-smile and a rather pouty lick of her lips. “Thanks, Gee,” she said, taking a swig, “but my edges rubbed off a long time ago.” She coolly looked at him then pointed to his bloodied ear, “What happened to you?”

Just as coolly, Lofty pointed to the little round hole at the top of the windscreen. The wind was now whistling through it. “Someone took a pot shot at me, coming down that incline.”

“That’s where my tire blew; I managed to get round this bend before careening off the road.” Her forehead furrowed as she raised a concerned eyebrow. “You don’t think someone was trying to drill me too, do ya?”

He was pretty damn sure someone was. “We better get out o’ here.” He said as he clambered awkwardly from the back seat to the front.

“My, but you’re a BIG galoot, aren’t ya?” She said. “All strong arms an’ long legs.”

The V-12 was still purring under the hood as he got back into the driver’s seat and took the hand-brake off. Lofty eased the engine into a growl, and the Lincoln soon picked up speed. He punched his fist through the shattered windscreen in front of him, so he could at least have some idea of where he was going. The left wiper finally gave up the ghost and jammed halfway up.

“Wait, wait!” The young woman exclaimed. “My things, in the car… I can’t leave them here.”

He glanced back at her with a steely glare that revealed a slight flash of anger.

“Everything I own is in that crate. I can’t abandon it all; someone might glom the lot, and it’s all I have in the world!” She insisted, her steel matching his.

Lofty caught a glimpse of what looked like a brand-new maroon ‘47 Ford two-door convertible rammed into a tree. He braked suddenly, sending the blanket wrapped young woman sliding forward. She slipped clean off the back seat with a startled yelp.

“What am I getting?” He bristled, though the flicker of anger had vacated his granite chiselled features. He had a cleft chin and high cheekbones with the kind of lazy, sad eyes that had seen far too much of the world.

Sitting back up in the seat, she said. “There’s a case and vanity in the foot-well on the passenger side. A pocketbook in the glove compartment. Oh, and a clutch-purse, a fur stole an’ jacket, and a folio on the passenger seat too.”

He looked back at her, and with a hint of sarcasm, said, “Is that all?” He guessed she was about twenty, but she could have been a couple of years on either side of that. She had a knowing face and an easy air, a self-assurance that he liked a lot.

“Yep.” Not short of sass, she added with ironic demure, “I’m a simple gal of modest means.”

Lofty backed the Lincoln up a little and then eased himself over to the passenger side. The convertible’s door was already wide open, so when Lofty opened his door wide, the two doors met. “Open your door too,“ he said to the girl, “an’ I’ll pass all your worldly goods to ya.”

Staying low, the big man quickly shifted over to her car. It still had that new car smell, and all her luggage looked pretty damn pristine too. “And not cheap,” he mumbled as he started lifting and schlepping the items to her. Case, vanity, pocketbook, clutch, folio, and then he threw the stole and jacket — white fox fur, all very expensive — right in after them. “Modest means?” He said as he got back in the Lincoln. “Quite the doll, aren’t ya.”

“They were a gift… from a friend.” She said. “Not that I need to explain myself to you.”

“No, you’re right — ya don’t.” Doors closed, hand-brake off, and they were on their way again. “I apologize.” He said, peering through the fist-sized hole and the still pouring rain.

“Apology accepted.” She said. “We’re both a bit nervy, that’s all. Got any butts on ya? I’m gasping.”

Three rapid flashes of lightning bleached the whole of Essex County — if not the entire State of Massachusetts — for a brief second or two. It was all stark woods, dank marshes, unwholesome creeks and small, isolated, barren-looking farmsteads. The accompanying cataclysmic claps of thunder rattled the windows in the car,

“I’ve got almost a full deck in my inside pocket,” He said, negotiating a series of tight bends. “If you can reach around and get ‘em — don’t want to take my hands off the wheel at the moment.”

“Sure thing, Gee.” She said, reaching for the pack of Camel cigarettes.

“Flare one up for me too, will ya, Doll?” He glanced at her with a droll but intimate grin.

“Sure thing.” She replied with a coy smile. Martha lit the two cigarettes simultaneously with a lighter pulled from her purse. Then reached forward again to place one of them in Lofty’s mouth. “So, what’s your name Gee?” Her face was level with his now, and he felt her warm breath on his cheek as she spoke.

“Robertson.” He said, drawing in on his cigarette. “Mitch Robertson — but most folks call me Lofty.”

“Lofty!” She laughed. “Your friends aren’t the most original, are they?”

He laughed too, “Nope, but that’s soldiers for ya — I got the name in the army, and it stuck.”

“You a G.I.?”

“Was.” He said. “82nd Airborne Division, 505th P.I.R., Sergeant First Class.”

“Sergeant First Class!” She said, impressed. “What does P.I.R. stand for?”

“Parachute Infantry Regiment.”

“A paratrooper!” Again, she seemed impressed. “You must have been in the thick of it during the war; did you see much action?”

He nodded and said, “Some — Sicily, Italy, Normandy… all the way through to Germany.”

“Damn!” She said, but sensed his demeanour turn. He had tensed up at the close of her question. She had seen enough young men back from the war in the last two years to understand. Some wanted to talk about it, but most didn’t; she had learned it was best not to push, for many were broken — inside as well as out. She changed the subject, “So, what do you do now… for a living, I mean?”

“I’m a gum-shoe, but it’s not much of a living.” He said.

“You’re a Johnny Buttons?” A lot less impressed this time, she simmered a palpable hostility at the very idea that he might be a police detective.

“A Private Op.” He qualified.

“Oh, a P.I. — you must be a glutton for punishment. Couldn’t leave the excitement and danger behind when you demobbed, is that it?”

Lofty laughed, “Believe me, it’s not that exciting. It’s not like it is in the movies or some dime-novel, you know. It’s cheating husbands an’ wives mostly. What about you; what’s your story?”

“There’s not much to tell.” She said in a defensive tone. “I was a hostess for a while and have done a bit of modelling, a bit of dancing — chorus line… tried a bit of acting. You know, this an’ that.”

“Well, you seem to be doing well for yourself — new car, Chanel bags and Arctic Fox furs. You must have quite the benefactor?”

“Hey!” She said, offended. “What are you implying?”

“I’m not implying anything… hell, we all have to do what we have to do to get by in this world — I’m in no position to judge anyone in those regards. Think I can afford a bus like this on twenty-five dollars a day plus expenses?”

“Humph,” she said, “still sounds like you’re implying something to me.” Though, now she was more feigning offence than taking it.

“There’s a gas station up ahead. We better stop an’ tell them about your wreck back there; maybe call the local Clubhouse, tell the cops that there’s some kind o’ lunatic taking potshots at people.”

Lofty spent about five minutes out of the car while Martha bit her thumb inside it. She could see him and the attendant gesticulating to each other, getting directions she presumed, but the raging storm meant she heard none of it. The attendant took his time filling the tank. There were some more gesticulations.

“Damn this godforsaken place!” Said Lofty when he got back in the Lincoln, slicking his Brylcreemed black hair down. “Didn’t have a phone — hell, I doubt they even have cops out here anyway… the place is a total backwater.” He sat there a moment, thinking. “We’re not too far from my destination… is there anywhere I can take you? Where were you heading? Because I have to say, there’s not much of anything around these parts.” He turned to look back at her, “and I can’t figure what a big-city gal like you is doing all the way out here?”

“Ah, well… this big-city gal happens to have been born all the way out here. Orphaned at age four and sent to distant relatives in Boston.” A hint of bitterness crept into her soft caramel voice. “At twelve, they sent me to even more distant relatives in New York, been a big-city gal ever since.”

“Go figure,” he said, “so was I, born way out here that is. I got drafted into the army in 1940, twenty-two years old and fresh out of M.U., saw the world and opened my eyes… after the war, I moved to the big city myself — San Francisco. Never thought I’d ever come back here.”

“Me neither,” she said, “but I’m here… got an offer I couldn’t refuse. Some great-great-uncle I’d never heard of up an’ died and left me some kind of inheritance or bursary.”

“And you’ve gotta attend the reading of the will to receive it?”

“Yes, how’d you know?”

Lofty delved into an inside pocket, “Me too.” He said as he handed her an envelope.

She took it, removed the letter still inside and read it. “This is the same letter I got,” she said, “word for word, I think, except my name in place of yours.”

Lofty asked, “Do you still have the letter you received?”

“Sure.” She said and retrieved it. Hers too was still in the envelope, now folded in half. She pulled it from her pocketbook then handed it to him with his own.

He studied the two envelopes. Each address was written in the same hand. With identical post marks indicating they originated from Ipswich, a small town about three or four miles further up the road. Both dated October the 13th, about two weeks ago. Hers sent to Ms Martha Woodstern, 118a, Rapelye Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York. The letters inside were indeed identical except for the names, and they were both typed — probably on the same machine. The shaky signatures matched too, from a William Castle, the last surviving child of the great-great-uncle previously unknown to them.

“Well, Ms Woodstern,” he said, handing back her letter, “it looks like we’re related, if somewhat distantly.”

“And this William Castle bird, that we’re going to meet, if he’s our great-uncle… how old must he be?”

“He’s eighty-seven… I looked him up. I spent the last couple of days back in Lynn and then Salem, at the Public Libraries and the Records Office. He’s from a rich family that has a long and complicated history. Of both Scottish and English descent. How it all relates to my family tree, I have no idea.”

“If he’s eighty-seven?” She exclaimed. “How old was great-great-uncle Wilbur when he died?”

“He was a-hundred-and-nine by all accounts.”

“Damn, talk about charmed lives.”

“Like I said, they’re rich. Have been for centuries. Old Wilbur’s father, Wilbur senior, paid to have a Scottish baronial castle moved stone by stone across the Atlantic and rebuilt here, in Massachusetts, in the 1830s. On the site of some deserted colonial village. With its cemetery and an old abandoned mine that he’d managed to acquire. It caused a hell of a stir. Young William still lives in that castle to this day. That’s where we’re heading now, Castle House.”

Martha laughed dryly, “So William Castle actually lives in a castle, and I was born to humble farm stock who’d worked themselves to death trying to feed me…  where’s the connection?”

“Not sure. I couldn’t find a connection to me either.” Lofty pondered. “It makes me wonder how many more prospective distant relatives are on their way to this Last Will and Testament reading?”

After a moment’s silence, Martha asked, “How much further is it?”

“Not far up this road, there‘s a turn off to the right. It loops back through the woods and salt-marshes to Castle House, toward the coast. It should take about fifteen or twenty minutes.” Lofty eased the Lincoln’s V12 back into a growl, and they set off from the gas station.

Castle House was an early sixteenth-century Tower House and courtyard, a big one, with two seventeenth-century towers at alternate corners of the massive keep-like house. It sat at the top of a relatively low conical hill known as Castle Mound. An old graveyard sloped down the right side toward the salt marshes, with a ruined church and village down the left to some woods. Essentially, it was an island that dominated the surrounding wetland of the Castle Neck River estuary. Lofty kept getting glimpses of it through the hole in the windscreen as he drove along the narrow causeway that twisted through the marshes between thick copses and over swirling tributaries. After another flash of lightning and burst of thunder, he said. “Looks like a backdrop from a Universal monster movie. All we need is Bella Lugosi or Boris Karloff and an overly dramatic musical score.”

“Gives me the creeps!” Said Martha in the back. It was not the sort of castle she had imagined; it was all bleak and foreboding and reminded her of nightmares that plagued her in childhood. Martha really wanted Lofty to turn the car around. “Something doesn’t feel right about this whole setup,” she warned, “the letters… a great-great-uncle that neither of us has ever heard of before. It has to be a joke or a con, a scam of some sort, or a trap — someone has already tried to kill us!”

Lofty uttered a dismissive laugh. “These rubes are rich, and I’ve got the jump on them. We both stand to carve a substantial chunk of sugar from inside that pile. I at least want to see how the cards fall before I consider checking out of this particular house game.”

She said no more, and he didn’t turn the car around. He thought about telling her what the gas-station attendant had told him, a nervous little man who wasn’t — Lofty suspected — entirely compos mentis. “It be a Hell house,” he had said, “a Hell house on a haunted hill! You don’t want to go up there. Often-times, people drive up there, but very few of them seem to come back down!”

Of course, he didn’t tell her — that fool of an attendant was speaking nonsense, and he figured she was jumpy enough as it was. So they continued following the road, snaking up the hill to the forbidding gatehouse that fronted the walled courtyard of Castle House.

__________

HellHouseOnHauntedHill01Paint75percent
Martha Woodstern and Mitch “Lofty” Robertson on their way to Castle House

Chapter Two: Dissolute Progeny is now available to read HERE and I may feature up to two more of the initial chapters in subsequent posts before publication of the finished ebook and paperback later in the year.

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