Sunday, October 31, 2021

Halloween 2021

Happy Halloween, for yet another year! I hope every has had/will have a great time I had a busy month on and off my blog, and was looking forward to the day itself. I had a fun spooky marathon, with a few sugary snacks and drinks (and some healthy vegetables to balance things out), and some pizza for dinner. I carved a pumpkin, and made a papier-mache Voodoo mask.

In the afternoon I went out trick or treating, except I was giving out candy, not receiving it. This mostly went off without a hitch,though it was only when I began that I suddenly realised it might look like I'm a greedy boy, hoarding mass amounts of lollies! This problem was quickly solved when the first people I visited thanked me and promptly emptied my first bowl! I was shocked, but too polite to say anything, and wasn't sure how things would continue. But then the next couple of places didn't need anything! Whaddya know, like a cosmic balancing act. A few other places did need some extra supplies, on the cusp of running out, so I was able to contribute.

All in all it was a bit of a busier Halloween than usual, but still entertaining and enjoyable, and not too bloody hot...

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Dracula in Turkey and Pakistan (1953 and 1967)

Drakula Istanbul'da/Dracula in Istanbul (1953)

There have been many adaptions of Bram Stoker's classic vampire novel over the years, all with varying degrees of loyalty. Some are at least a little faithful, but few completely so, especially the Universal and Hammer entries, which diverge from the text a fair bit. Partly this is due to the book's length, and long list of characters, but also its epistolary structure, which doesn't lend itself well to film. In a way this is actually a good thing, as it allows for creativity, and always being a little different. One of the more faithful and straightforward adaptions comes from a surprising place, in the heartland of Turkey!

Lawyer Azmi has journeyed to the ancestral home of Count Dracula to conduct a real estate deal. He soon notices odd things, which culminates in a dreamlike attack. Realising the danger he's in, Azmi is able to escape back home to Turkey. But it's too late to stop Dracula from following, and he begins to take roost in Istanbul, claiming new victims. Can he be stopped before he sucks the city dry?...

Dracula in Istanbul is an old-fashioned horror movie at heart. By no means a classic, it does its job well. There's enough scares and thrills present, even if they're not entirely successful. The black and white photography, and decent (if rickety) sets give off a good atmosphere. The movie does run a good 20 minutes longer than it should have, but is never boring at least.

While many viewers, or even filmmakers, would never know for decades (and probably still don't), Dracula in Istanbul did a lot of firsts for Dracula cinema. It was the first to show him with fangs, the first to not jettison Arthur Holmwood, and it even beat Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula to the Vlad the Impaler punch by 5 decades. It also includes the scene of Dracula climbing his castle walls like a lizard, which many adaptions leave out.

It's Dracula's historical connection that makes this a particularly interesting picture. To the English, Vlad the Impaler was just a random historical figure, but to the Turks he was a very real threat, who waged war and fought off their advances to brutal degrees. While I doubt he was exactly a boogeyman to Turkish youths by 1953, there's still a closer connection to the source material than just about anywhere else.

The heroes are straight out of the book. Azmi is Johnathan Harker by another name, while he's aided by Turan (Arthur), and Doctors Nuri and Akif (Van Helsing and Seward). The girls are Güzin and Sadan (Mina and Lucy), and fill their roles well, with the latter becoming a seductive vampire woman. They're all fairly standard, and do alright.

The Renfield equivalent is not in an English asylum here, but Dracula's manservant in Transylvania. He gets a surprisingly juicy role, defying his cruel master to save Azmi's life.

And lastly, 'Drakula' makes for a reasonably effective villain. Suave, cunning, and hypnotic. And given the sheer amount of garlic in his way, it seems he picked the wrong country to attack!

One of the bigger differences from the books, or other films, is 'Mina's' new occupation-She works as a bellydancer! This results in several scenes showcasing her talent (or lack thereof, depending on the viewer).

The acting is decent, and Atıf Kaptan makes for a good Dracula visually, although his voice doesn't sound that distinctive. But I won't criticise him though for not being as commanding a presence as Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee. [And props to the actor for actually trying something with his accent, since Dracula is meant to be Romanian, not Turkish!]

The print I watched had some hilarious subtitles, which manage at least 7 different spellings of Dracula, gut-busting exclamations like "How dare!", and mistranslates impaling as poking, resulting in the unintimidating name of Vlad the Poker.

The effects here are pretty cheap, but done in decent ways. Some look pretty neat, like the Dracula scaling the castle, while others are simple cross-cuts. The direction, meanwhile, is neat, and evokes a decent enough Gothic atmosphere.

There's one amusing bit of behind-the-scenes trivia, showcasing the Turkish know-how spirit. To achieve the effect of a misty graveyard (smoke machines being a luxury for Turkish cinema, I imagine), the crew had to crouch behind out of sight and huff cigarettes to make enough smoke!

Overall, Dracula in Istanbul is a pretty decent horror picture. Nothing amazing or A-list, but it's still an interesting adaption to check out, and it's fun seeing the Turks take a stab at Dracula. It's also neat seeing them tackle the horror genre, which they so rarely did before the turn of the millennium...

Zinda Laash/Dracula in Pakistan

A well-meaning but misguided scientist Dr. Tabani is experimenting to find the elixir of life, and succeeds only in turning himself into a monstrous vampire. Some time later he is visited by the secret vampire hunter Dr. Aqil. This mission ends in failure, and it's soon up to Aqil's brother to uncover the mystery, and stop this vampire before he sucks the life out of Aqil's beautiful fiancee, and her family...

Zinda Laash translates directly to The Living Corpse, but is more commonly known as Dracula in Pakistan (the jumpier title!). It's an enjoyable mix of East and West, in a comfy horror package. And who doesn't wanna see Dracula take a subcontinental vacation!

The plot here is in essence a remake of Hammer's Horror of Dracula, but with elements of the book added back in. It shares many positives of that classic, as well as one glaring issue. Dr. Aqil has both Dracula and his bride there in the coffins. Why doesn't he stake Dracula first?!

Aqil's brother soon comes to replace him as lead protagonist, and comes into conflict with the fiancee's family patriarch, who refuses to believe there's a vampire on the loose, and certainly doesn't want to chop up his daughter's body. Hard to really say he's acting unreasonably, especially as the brother acts increasingly persistent. We do eventually get a Van Helsing analogue, who comes pretty out of nowhere.

The film has enough action to keep interest, and is never as overlong as a Desi film could be. There are tense vampire encounters, such as the Lucy analogue attempts biting her younger sister, and the increasing danger 'Mina' is in. Things culminate in a car chase, and final battle in Tabani's 'castle', which is plenty of fun.

Besides the switch in country of course, the biggest differences from either the literary or cinematic source material is the updated time period. Zinda Laash is set in the then modern day, and has a surprisingly modern feel. I'll say this though. The nightclub scenes aren't as wild as I was expecting. When one hears '1960s nightculb scene' you tend to expect more of a psychedelic acid feel, but really it's more like lounge singing, and fairly traditional.

The film came under immediate scrutiny from authorities in its home country, branded with a dreaded X rating and almost banned. This is pretty unfair, considering it's a fairly tame and bloodless horror film! Obviously it's tame by today's standards, but it's pretty classical even for its time. Not to say it's not impactful or couldn't scare anybody, but you don't exactly see tits galore or buckets of blood. What you do get is a good story about monsters causing trouble and heroes with faith in Allah saving the day. So really I have no idea what these censors took issue with so much, besides hardline fanatics just hating fun. God knows the public liked it!

The cast all do a good job. Habib (just Habib) is a decent hero, Asad Bukhari is likewise as the doomed Dr. Aqil, and the various women all do well. The best performer is Rehan as Dracula, alias Dr. Tabani. He has a good villainous presence, and some amusingly cheesy moments, courtesy of his wild facial expressions.

The direction is quite good, with a few neat touches. We get a mix of classical gothic settings, and modern, and they're shot from cool angles, with nice use of shadows.

The effects in Zinda Laash are minimal, but very good! There's a sense of quality over quantity here. Being a fairly small scale character piece, there aren't a lot of effects heavy scenes, but those that do have impact, from the surprisingly great vampire fangs (especially Shabnam's, which are a far cry from cardboard fangs!), and an impressive vampire disintegration at the end.

The score here is quite varied. There are some classical pieces, including a rescored version of Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, tense mood-setting tracks, and some groovy music! Zinda Laash may be from Pakistan, but who said the age of disco didn't reach their shores? These tunes do ruin the mood in a couple of tense scenes, but otherwise they're a fun addition. Lastly, as a Pakistani film, this is basically Indian, meaning there are a few Bollywood-esque songs. They're nice enough, if a bit superfluous, and fade entirely from the last act.

Pakistan's cinema may not be as impressive as their larger neighbour, but they've still produced some great stuff over the years, and even their smaller horror output proves to be great fun! Zinda Laash is a legitimately good flick, and well worth checking out, both as a companion piece to the book/other adaptions, and as its own film...

Friday, October 29, 2021

The Jungle Woman Trilogy (1943-1945)

Captive Wild Woman

I was recently thinking on how annoying it is that there's a 1930s/40s horror flick called The Ape, and one called The Ape Man, but no The Ape Woman to round out the set! Grrrrr. However, I growled too soon, because there's actually an Ape Woman trilogy! None of the entries are actually called that, but still. I call this a success...

Animal trainer Fred Mason has returned from a trip to Africa, bringing a collection of animals for a circus. Among his prizes is an impressive gorilla named Cheela. Meanwhile, his fiancee Beth takes her ill sister to a gland specialist, Dr. Sigmund Walters, not realising the man has sinister plans. When he sees Cheela, he's amazed at this perfect specimen, and kidnaps the gorilla in order to experiment on, turning her into a human woman dubbed Paula. What mad idea will cross his mind next? And just what will the animalistic Cheela do now that she has the appearance of a human?..

Captive Wild Woman is a fairly decent movie, though with issues. A circus is a potentially interesting setting for a horror film, but Captive Wild Woman doesn't quite pull it off, mainly because we spend so much time at the circus without any spooky or horrific goings-on happening. Look, there's setting up story, and then there's wasting time! 35 minutes is a bit much for an hour long film.

Fred, ostensibly the lead, is an alright guy, though I question his intelligence. Returning from a safari, he was gone for two years, a fact everyone around him seems remarkably blase about! Between this and the stunts he pulls with his big cats, he's basically a moron with a death wish. He also gets some amusingly cringey lines, like "Oh, a cage full of animals with a girl mixed up in it, it doesn't make sense" (admittedly makes a little more sense in context), or after a lion and tiger taming show, he says to Beth, "Honey, I wonder if you'll be that easy to train after we're married.".

Beth fares well. Her jumping to conclusions is unnatural, even if she happens to be spot on. She's more involved in the climax than Greg is, but she makes no effort to fight back when locked in a lab, even though the guy's a rake, and is unarmed. Just punch him! Thankfully she does even the odds, in an unexpected way.

Paula meanwhile is enigmatic and filled with attraction towards Fred. This means instant jealousy when she sees him with another woman. Possessing an unstable body, she will revert back to an ape without further experimentation, which you can imagine will play havoc on her love life.

The villain is an enjoyable mad scientist. Affable, yet sinister, and perfectly willing to sacrifice his staff for an experiment. His specialty is glandular research, which is how he manages to transform an ape into a human. Perfectly reasonable science, really. I can't imagine why it's not more popular!

The climax is fairly entertaining, although only the basics are resolved. What bothers me most about the ending is the music in the final moments, which is so quick and jovial that it gives you no breathing space after the brief conclusion, and kinda kills the mood. Some slower music would've been preferred.

The gorilla costume really clashes with the real animals used in the rest of the film. It doesn't look too cheap, but it's obviously not really an ape. Still though, you've gotta like this period in Hollywood when ape costumes were not only acceptable, but mandatory! The man-ape make-up is very good,

As for the real animals, there are a few moments of wild action. I'm not sure how they accomplished it, but I assume it must've been under safe conditions, hence the animals bloodlessly scrapping for several minutes. I think they were actually just playing around, and the ferocious snarls and roars were dubbed in to make their playtime seem like a fierce battle. Either way this probably isn't the film to watch if you dislike animals in circuses, and it won't do anything to endear the concept to you.

The acting is decent overall. John Carradine is great as the resident mad scientist, while Acquanetta has a great look to her, with a piercing stare, but doesn't get much to do besides that, and isn't even present in the conclusion! She practically vanishes from the movie several minutes before the end, as her character reverts back to being an ape for the climax.

Milburn Stone and Evelyn Ankers are fine leads. I was hoping the character of Dorothy would get more to do, and was a bit dismayed when she vanished for nearly the entire film...and then she opened her mouth, and suddenly I didn't mind so much.

Ahh, the 1940s were such a healthy time! Overall, besides general period habits like smoking up a chimney, or casual chauvinism, the film isn't all that dated, and never falls into any racial traps.

Captive Wild Woman has a few flaws, but overall it's a pretty decent time, and provides a few fun moments and thrills...

Jungle Woman

A scientist stands accused of a murder, and together with his friends and family must defend himself from the charges. He tells a tale of a resurrected ape woman named Paula, and how her animalistic jealousy threatened the lives of everyone between her and her man...

Jungle Woman is an interesting movie. For the first 15 minutes it's the cheapest sequel imaginable! It reuses wholesale stock footage from the first movie, showing a whole 3 minute scene when only 20 seconds would have sufficed. This is especially galling in a movie that's only an hour long! This left me a little worried as to the quality of the movie to come. This is where things get more positive though.

This is is a very cheap movie, as evidenced by its reused footage, and the realisation I had that the only time we'd seen Paula as an ape woman was through this old footage! Add to this the fact that the entire setting is the clinic from the last, then you have a recipe for disaster. While the lack of other locations harms the movie, the setting makes sense, and is in a way utilised better than in the last film.

Its low budget aside however, Jungle Woman looks very good! The director clearly put attention and care into it, and got a few good shots here and there. It also resolves a couple of loose ends from the first movie too, such as Fred never learning that Paula and Cheela the ape were one and the same.

The characters are alright. The scientist this time round is benevolent, and tries his best. Bob is a good guy, and despite buying into Paula's lies, he's pretty blameless for it, since he doesn't realise the truth yet. Love interest Joan is a nice girl. And Paula, after the events of the last movie has still not learned her lesson, She's still falling in love with taken men, and getting wildly jealous. It is interesting seeing how manipulative she can get!

The acting is all pretty standard here. The film makes the interesting choice of having Paula speak. I say interesting, but not good. You see, Aquanetta is a visually stunning actress. Ethereally beautiful, and great with non-verbal skills, but her vocal talents are...shall we say, robotic?

Overall, there's not really any reason Jungle Woman needed to exist, and it does nothing new, but I'm glad it exists. It may not do anything new, but it does do a few things better, so that's good at least. And despite its flaws, it's never a bad movie...

The Jungle Captive

The body of ape woman Paula is stolen from a morgue by a hulking brute, who brings the body to a seemingly kind scientists, with sinister experiments to test. Two young people get embroiled in the events, and must fight to ensure the doctor's insane plans don't reach fruition...

I went into Jungle Captive, the final entry in the Paula trilogy, not expecting much. The first sequel was already stretching things, but managed to be decent. Another one though? That's dangerous thinking when the last one only had 45 minutes of new material!

This is a film that simultaneously feels like its own thing, yet hinges on being a sequel. Because of this it really does fail at both. It's unable to exist as its own story, yet never delivers a satisfying one for Cheela. If you watch it on its own it's a fairly passable movie, and kills an hour quickly enough, but that's it.

The absolute worst thing it does is mistreat past characters. When the villains discuss Dr. Fletcher, I just assumed they meant John Carradine from the first movie. But nope, they meant the guy from Jungle Woman! And they killed him offscreen. Talk about disrespectful! I like to think he knew what was happening after Paula's body was stolen, and faked his death to trick the villains out into the open. That'd actually be pretty neat, if all the protagonists of the last movie had their own big plot we never see! We are all the heroes of our own story after all. Just because Ann and Don are the leads here, doesn't mean the others are frozen stiff.

The two heroes are fairly average, and certainly likeable. The same goes for the resident snarky police chief. The most distinctive character is the villainous henchman, named Moloch. Though it took me halfway through the movie before I realised they weren't saying Mullock. Kinda less intimidating when you think it's a regular name like that, isn't it! He's your typical hulking brute, but he's surprisingly clever.

This is more of a Rondo Hatton vehicle, and a pretty good one too. It also never once points out his deformity, instead just treating him like he's a regular goon. Even the terrified heroes never mention anything odd about him.

Dr. Stendahl is a little different, in that unlike the mad doctor of the first film, he desperately wants to test his theories yet is unwilling to kill anyone to get it. That's quite interesting, and while corpse snatching is still bad, it lends enough moral ambiguity to the proceedings. Just a shame then that his assistant Moloch totally murdered someone to get the body! This is even acknowledged, and the doc's reaction is an amusing "Oh yes."

While not a comedy, Jungle Captive has a few funny moments. As one character says-"They say she had the strength of a gorilla" She is a gorilla, you moron! Later, the police are looking for a missing Ann, and he casually says it could just be amnesia. "Ann has been working awfully hard lately. I myself am to blame for that, it's very thoughtless of me honestly". I didn't know amnesia was so easy to get! Just a hectic day at the office and bam, you've lost all your memory!

Stendahl gets another good moment when he casually tells his captive "I need some more of your blood, Ann. Not much this time". And lastly is the fact that his evil lair is undone by a power bill. That's why you've gotta get off the grid if you're a power mad scientist!

Cheela/Paula really gets shafted in this film. She only comes back to life 25 minutes before the end, and since her new brain would mean Ann's death, that means you know she's never gonna get it. Therefore she's really only a hollow shell of her former self.

The climax begins when Don is captured after investigating the doctor's lair. He does manage to escape...only to get caught and tied up again immediately afterwards! Ann is out cold most of the time, while all Don can do is talk. Thankfully he tells Moloch enough to turn him on the doc, for all the good it does. The day is saved by Cheela, who wakes up and remembers she's a horror movie villain.

The acting is fine enough. Amelita Ward and Phil Brown are good leads. Otto Kruger is an amusing villain, friendly enough when in mixed company, but scheming in private. His acting is so casual I don't know whether to praise him for his comedic skills, or criticise him for not emoting properly. Either way it's fun. Rondo Hatton meanwhile provides some intimidation and menace, with a fine performance.

The first film I saw Jerome Cowan in was Find the Blackmailer, where he's a smart-alec private eye. Here he's a smart-alec policeman! Funny seeing him on the official side of the law this time, yet acting the same. And he's the boss, too! More bosses should be as funny as Inspector Harrigan. And lastly, as Cheela/Paula is Vicky Lane, replacing Aquanetta. She does ok, but she has none of the animalism or hypnotic looks that Aquanetta brought to the role, and she's sorely missed.

Jungle Captive has as many flaws as positives. Worth a watch if you're a fan of this stuff, but nothing great...

Son of Ingagi (1940)

Spencer Williams was what we call in Australia a top bloke. He started out in the theatre, soon became an actor, and moved on to directing. Despite being known for humourous roles, and despite having no more than two pennies to rub together, he still managed to produce mature content that's still appreciated today. He never let himself be ted down to any one genre, as he went from comedy, to drama, 'juke' musicals, and horror...

Eleanor and Robert Lindsay are a newly married couple, ready to settle down in their new home. They make the acquaintance of Dr. Jackson, who turns out to be a friend of the family. Despite having a spooky reputation among the neighbourhood, Eleanor is warm and inviting, knowing all the good she's done with her studies. What she doesn't know is that in Dr. Jackson's home contains a deadly man ape, that may soon cause havoc...

Son of Ingagi starts off pretty sweetly, showing a wedding between two cute newlyweds, all the while building up a suspicious character and situation. It's only at the half hour mark (also the halfway mark) where spooky stuff starts happening proper. This never feels like it's late, and the set-up is all good.

When I first went into this film, I was expecting a broad comedy, since a lot of African-American genre cinema of the time was deeply humorous (be they westerns, horrors, or crime, you could often expect to have a good laugh with the characters), and the lighthearted opening had me wondering, but for the most part Son of Ingagi is a pretty serious affair. Not too serious, of course. It strikes a good balance. The tense scenes are tense, and there's a good atmosphere built up.

Then there's the comedy. It mainly takes the form of funny dialogue, and succeeds, without ever spoiling the moment. One highlight is "Well his neck was broken, and two ribs caved in, back twisted. I was thinkin' maybe he committed suicide, until I found out both his arms were busted, then I couldn't figure it out!"

I can't really say I have many outright problems with this film, though there were a few little things that annoyed or confused me. First and foremost is a frustrating moment where Doctor Baker gloriously proclaims that she's finally found a formula that can singlehandedly cure all of mans ills!...Before it's immediately drunk by N'Gina, who goes crazy and destroys the lab, killing his mistress. Maybe she spoke too soon, and the fact that N'Gina went crazy at all means she buggered the formula, but it's still a nuisance to watch.

The confusing elements of the film are to do with Doctor Baker, and how she managed to smuggle a ton of gold and a giant man-ape all the way from Africa! On that note, the mentions of her gold seem to almost take Son of Ingagi into comic book territory, when we have scenes such as the doctor's greedy/unscrupulous brother going "Gimme your gold! I want your gold!".

Something I especially admire about Son of Ingagi is how progressive it is! First and foremost it's a race film, but we also have a great portrayal of not only a female doctor, but mad scientist too! The movie never makes anything of this, simply showing it as is, working wonderfully.

Daisy Bufford and Alfred Grant make for good leads. They're sweet, endearing, and you always support them. Multitasking Spencer Williams does a very good job here as the comic relief policeman. He gets some of the funniest scenes, and adds extra life to the proceedings. Laura Bowman is sinister at first as the suspicious Doctor, but soon shows a sensitive side, which fleshes her character out considerably. Then we see her more maternal facet with N'Gina, adding another layer of depth for the actress to work with, which she manages well. The movie loses some talent when her character dies. And lastly, Zack Williams does very well as N'Gina, who gets both sensitive and animalistic moments. I would've liked to see him in more roles like this, and become an African-American Karloff or Chaney.

The effects for the titular monster are pretty well realised. It's not the most expensive of make-up, but it never looks bad, and its design makes for a neat antagonist.

Spencer Williams would continue making movies, before eventually getting a lead role in Amos 'n Andy, becoming cemented as a cultural institution among both races, which I find to be a touching capstone to his storied career. And with Son of Ingagi, he shares a great milestone with all who worked on this film, one of the first black horrors. It may not be the greatest movie out there, but as far as beginnings go, you could do far worse...