Pontypool (2008) This frightening Canadian horror film takes an esoteric spin on the typical zombie invasion flick. I don’t want to reveal too many details, but suffice it to say that the nature of the infection is original, depicting a pathogen that’s existential in origin. Stephen McHattie plays burnt out, alcoholic broadcaster Grant Muzzy, who works for a talk radio station in the small town of Pontypool, Ontario. Pontypool works around its low budget by taking the risky choice of keeping the action off-screen for two thirds of the film, leaving the outbreak, ensuing panic and carnage to our imaginations. Director Bruce McDonald and writer Tony Burgess (who based the screenplay on his novel) chooses to focus on the three leads as they grapple with isolation while the world starts to crumble outside their cramped radio station. McDonald relies on close-up reaction shots and frenzied voices of the radio station crew to convey the escalating violence. The film’s only misstep is the introduction of one character late in the film who exists solely to provide an explanation for what’s going on. Thankfully, this isn’t a fatal error in an otherwise fascinating and disturbing film. While the ratcheting tension and escalating paranoia in a tight space reminded me of John Carpenter’s The Thing, I can’t claim to have seen anything else quite like it. Highly recommended.
Rating: ****. Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming
Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974) One of the later, but not lesser Hammer flicks. Writer/director Brian Clemens purposefully went on a tangent from the studio’s Dracula series, creating his own version of the vampire mythos. Hammer was running out of steam by this point, but Clemens’ film proved that the venerable studio still had some life left, even without Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing. Horst Janson stars as the titular hero and John Cater as his faithful sidekick, the hunchbacked Dr. Grost, who travel the countryside together, ridding the world of the vampire scourge. Most of the action is rather tame, but still a lot of fun. Caroline Munro adds some spice as Kronos’ latest flame, Carla. Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter was filmed in 1972, but didn’t see release until 1974 as part of a double bill with Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. Although the box office wasn’t particularly kind to the film, it’s received a much-deserved second chance, thanks to home video.
Rating: *** ½. Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming
The Blood Beast Terror (aka: The Vampire-Beast Craves Blood) (1968) This Hammer look-a-like from Tigon Productions stars Peter Cushing as a police inspector investigating a rash of incidents involving bodies drained of blood. Entomologist Carl Mallinger (Robert Flemyng) and his experiments with African moths seem to hold the key to the strange deaths. Oddly enough, the concept of blood-sucking moths isn’t entirely unprecedented, but the human/moth hybrid makeup effects are laughable and the story is dull. Mallinger’s “femme fatale” daughter Clare (played by Wanda Ventham) fails to ignite much in the way of excitement. The Blood Beast Terror reminded me of a low-rent version of Hammer’s The Reptile, along with bits and pieces from other, better genre films from the same era. Cushing’s presence can’t save this one, although I suppose there are worse ways to while away your time.
Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix Streaming
Frogs (1972) It’s a nature-gone-amok tale with all the thrills and suspense of visiting the local herpetarium. Ray Milland (in a career low, eclipsed only by The Thing with Two Heads) stars as wealthy, obstinate patriarch Jason Crockett. When his Southern plantation becomes overrun by countless toads, um, I mean frogs (the producers obviously didn’t believe filmgoers could tell the difference), it’s up to nature photographer/naturalist Pickett Smith (Sam Elliott) to discover the cause. Will he find out? Will he save Crockett’s family from certain doom from the amphibious fiends? Does anyone care? Frogs reinforces its point like a bludgeon, with multiple shots of the “frogs” lording over their swampy domain, accompanied by various shots of fauna that wouldn’t be found in the Western hemisphere, such as Tokay geckos and monitor lizards. I suppose the clips of vengeful wildlife were intended to elicit a sense of mystery, but the only thing they evoke is laughter, along with puzzlement.
Rating: **. Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming