Thursday, May 27, 2021

May Quick Picks and Pans

The Singing Ringing Tree Poster

The Singing Ringing Tree (1957) In this engaging adaptation of a Grimm fairy tale from East Germany’s DEFA studios, a sensitive, handsome prince (Eckart Dux) indulges the whims of a capricious princess (Christel Bodenstein). He brings her a magical tree, but she sends him away. After being cursed by a mischievous dwarf, he’s transformed into a bear, and must win her affections through his wits alone. The filmmakers were obviously not working with the kind of budgets available in the west, but the simplistic, stagey sets just add to the charm. Its main message about acceptance of the person inside shouldn’t be a shock to anyone, but in a social media-obsessed age (where we’re judged more on looks than content), it’s worth restating. It’s a good one to watch with the kids, or as a kid at heart. 

Note: The BBC version on Kanopy features English narration over the dialogue, which can be a bit off-putting at times, but it’s a minor quibble about an otherwise enjoyable film.

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD (Import) and Kanopy

Robot Jox Poster

Robot Jox (1989) In the near future, countries settle their disputes, not with armies but giant, human-piloted robots, in director Stuart Gordon’s (co-scripted by science fiction novelist Joe Haldeman) film. At an estimated budget of $10 million (1/19 of the cost of Pacific Rim), this was the most expensive production from independent Empire Pictures (which bankrupted the small production company). Former champion Achilles (Gary Graham) is coaxed out of retirement to fight archrival Eastern Bloc menace Alexander (Paul Koslo) once more. In a digital age when even low-budget movies can credibly depict large-scale destruction, the modest analog effects are an endearing change of pace. The characters are about as substantial as crepe paper, and the social commentary is about as deep as a kiddie pool, but if you want to see big robots duke it out, give it a try.

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Prime


Unknown World_Poster1a

Unknown World (1951) This production by Robert L. Lippert plays like a cheap version of Journey to the Center of the Earth, and makes the Amicus’ version of At the Earth’s Core (1976) look lavish, by comparison. A team of scientists and their wealthy benefactor board a specially built tunnelling vehicle to descend 1,000 miles beneath the Earth’s crust. Their goal: to find a habitable space for humanity if/when nuclear war breaks out. Expect lots of walking sequences (utilizing shots from Carlsbad Caverns, in New Mexico), scenes with needless, poorly motivated bickering, and some half-assed romance. The movie pushes its big message about learning to live life on the surface, rather than the more obvious one (humanity needs to clean up its act). Despite the premise, the movie’s journey just seems tedious, but you have to admire it on some level, depicting such lofty ambitions on a meager budget. 

Rating: **½. Available on DVD, Amazon Prime and Tubi

Roar Poster

Roar (1981) A conservationist (Noel Marshall) establishes a safe haven for big cats (including lions, tigers, jaguars, and panthers) in Kenya. Mayhem ensues when his wife and kids visit the compound, crossing paths with the enlarged felines. The troubled production’s behind-the-scenes story is much more compelling than the chaotic mess that appears onscreen. Because the filmmakers built an entire movie around the big cats, the results are a sloppily edited mess, with no discernible plot or story (if someone told me there wasn’t a script for this, and they simply ad-libbed every line, I’d probably believe it). Several cast members and crew, including director/star/co-writer Noel Marshall, co-star Melanie Griffith (co-starring with her mom/co-producer/star Tippi Hedren), and cinematographer Jan de Bont, were seriously injured during filming.

With regard to the scenes that were left in, you’re never quite sure if the bloody injuries the characters sustain are effects or the real deal (I’d put my money on real). While the message about the need for wildlife conservation and the plight of big cats around the world is a worthy one, I doubt anyone would condone living with a pride of lions as a viable answer. At best, Roar is a curiosity that must be seen to be believed. Just don’t expect anything particularly coherent. 

Rating: **. Available on DVD 


Monday, May 24, 2021

The Christopher Lee Blogathon – Wrap Up


The Christopher Lee Blogathon

We’ve reached the end of another spectacular blogathon, and once again, we’re impressed with the range of topics from our exceptionally talented participants. But as anyone familiar with ‘80s television can confirm, wait… There’s more! We have another batch of fabulous reviews for your reading entertainment, below.  

Rasputin the Mad Monk

I can’t thank Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews enough for agreeing to be my outstanding co-host for this event. Although there’s always a ton of work behind the scenes, she makes this look easy, and I couldn’t have done it without her.

We would also like to take this opportunity to announce that we will be hosting a third installment of the Hammer/Amicus Blogathon, this October. We’re hoping everyone (and their blogging friends) will join us then. In the meantime, adjust those thinking caps! Watch for further details soon…

Dr. Terror's House of Horrors

In addition to today’s links, be sure to visit the recaps from days One, Two and Three:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3


And here we go with our final batch of submissions (watch this space for any late additions)…


Hannie Caulder Poster

Cat from Thoughts All Sort sorts out the western revenge movie, Hannie Caulder (1972).

Dracula and Son Poster

Does the apple fall far from the tree? Eric Binford from Diary of a Movie Maniac reveals all, in his review of Dracula and Son (1976).


The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes Poster

Michaela from Love Letters to Old Hollywood gives us five reasons why we should sneak a peek at The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970).

Dracula - Prince of Darkness Poster

Vinnie from Vinnieh shines some light on Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966).

The Man with the Golden Gun Poster

And last, but certainly not least, Realweegiemidget Reviews presents Gill’s special guest blogger, “Darlin’ Husband,” who introduces us to one of Agent 007’s more formidable foes, in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).

Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Christopher Lee Blogathon – Day 3 Recap


The Christopher Lee Blogathon

Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews and I are back for the third day of the Christopher Lee Blogathon. We have another eclectic line-up of blog posts for your perusal. But wait! In the immortal words of sports great Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Due to some pending late submissions, we’re extending the blogathon for a bonus round.

The Hound of the Baskervilles Poster

 If you plan to participate, please let us know ASAP, and we’ll be glad to squeeze you in for tomorrow’s Wrap Up post. Post a comment below, email me at, or reach me on Twitter (@barry_cinematic). You may also contact Gill by commenting on her post, through her blog’s Contact Me page, or on Twitter (@realweegiemidge).

In addition to today’s links, be sure to visit the recaps from days One and Two:

Day 1

Day 2

And here are Day Three’s submissions… 

Howling II Poster

Andrew from Maniacs and Monsters endures (Ahem!), I mean, reviews Howling II: …Your Sister is a Werewolf (1985).

The Man Who Could Cheat Death Poster

You’ll feel cheated if you miss out on Michael Denney’s (the other half of Maniacs and Monsters) review of The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959).

1941 Poster

Dubsism brings us his unique mixture of film analysis and sports analogies for his take on 1941 (1979).

Gremlins 2 - The New Batch Poster

The Craggus discusses the inspired lunacy of Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990).


The Pirates of Blood River Poster

Avast, me hearties, and check out my review of  Hammer’s The Pirates of Blood River (1962)!


Saturday, May 22, 2021

The Pirates of Blood River


The Pirates of Blood River Poster

(1962) Directed by John Gilling; Written by John Hunter and John Gilling; Story by Jimmy Sangster; Starring: Kerwin Matthews, Glenn Corbett, Christopher Lee, Andrew Keir, Marla Landi, Oliver Reed, Michael Ripper and Peter Arne; Available on DVD.

Rating: ***½

“Tarted up with palms and banana trees to resemble the Caribbean, Black Park near Pinewood looked most appetizing. It was a cruel deception. In the middle of the park was a lake more stagnant and polluted than anything in Poe and through this filth and the hazards of sharp underwater objects I, as the pirate captain LaRoche, had to lead my piratical stars and a cohort of piratical stuntmen.” – Christopher Lee (excerpted from his autobiography, Christopher Lee: Tall, Dark and Gruesome”) 

A great big shout out is in order for my superb co-host, Gill Jacob from Realweegiemidget Reviews, for helping make the Christopher Lee Blogathon a reality. I’m thrilled to be a part of this three-day-plus multi-blogger event, covering numerous topics about a man who requires no further introduction. Be sure to check out all the exceptional posts!


A pirate movie without a pirate ship? Well, with Hammer being Hammer, no boat (not counting a matte painting, a snippet of stock footage and a small interior set) means no problem. Instead, writer Jimmy Sangster (who created the first draft of the screenplay and retained story credit) confined the bulk of The Pirates of Blood River to land. In lieu of filming on location in the Caribbean, the ever-cost-conscious filmmakers confined the shoot to locations around England, including a lake in Black Park* for an inlet, and a nearby gravel pit standing in for a sandy cliff. Production designer Bernard Robinson and his team were masters of repurposing set pieces and structures. The Huguenot colony featured in the film, built on the backlot of Bray studios,** was used previously for several other productions, including Brides of Dracula (1960), The Terror of the Tongs (1961), and TheCurse of the Werewolf (1961).

* Not So Fun Fact: Co-star Oliver Reed required treatment at a hospital, due to an eye infection caused by exposure to the dirty lake water.

** Fun Fact #1: One of Hammer’s most ardent admirers of the time was none other than Sammy Davis Jr., who paid a visit to the production. Davis reportedly marveled at how they could make such deceptively sweeping productions on such small sets.

Jonathon Standing

Our story begins on an 18th century Huguenot settlement, located on the Isle of Devon in the Caribbean. Jonathon Standing (Kerwin Matthews) and his mistress Maggie (Marie Devereux) are caught mid-tryst by local authorities. While attempting to flee, Maggie jumps in a river, and is consumed by a school of hungry piranhas*/** (conveniently getting her character out of the way, and providing the justification for the film’s title). Jonathon, on the other hand, stands trial for adultery, and is subsequently judged by a tribunal headed by his own father, Jason Standing (Andrew Keir). He begins his 15-year sentence at a nearby penal colony, lorded over by ruthless guards, but promptly makes his escape. His freedom proves to be short-lived, after an unfortunate run-in with the dreaded pirate captain LaRoche (Christopher Lee) and his band of cutthroats. He makes a deal with the pirates: in exchange for helping him return to the colony, where he can uproot the unjust leadership and establish new rule, he’ll providing safe haven for their ship. But when La Roche suspects the colony is hiding treasure, he abruptly changes the deal, putting the residents in jeopardy.

* Fun Fact #2: How or why piranhas ended up on a Caribbean island is anyone’s guess, since they’re only native to the South American continent (see Fact #2 in this cool article.)

** Fun Fact #3: According to film historian Marcus Hearn, the effect of a school of bloodthirsty piranhas churning the waters was created by simply throwing marbles into the lake.


While this is arguably Kerwin Matthews’ movie, all eyes are directed to Lee* (sporting a French accent), whenever he appears onscreen. LaRoche,** clad entirely in black (in a stark contrast to his brightly adorned crew), is an imposing and enigmatic figure, with his eyepatch and withered left hand. We never learn about his mysterious origins, but we can assume his past was unhappy. He doesn’t fit the stereotypical swaggering, boisterous pirate archetype. Instead of bellowing orders, he remains lost in his thoughts. Despite his quiet, introspective demeanor and physical limitations, LaRoche remains a formidable character. While he carries his left arm like a gnarled branch, he brandishes as pistol and sword with equal dexterity.

* Fun Fact #4: Lee and wardrobe mistress Rosemary Burrows shared what could only be called an amicably contentious professional relationship, across several Hammer productions. Per Burrows, “I remember saying to him once: ‘You know, you really are nasty!’ And he said, ‘I have to tell you, you’re pretty horrid!’ And from that day, that’s what we called each other – in jest of course…” (excerpted from Hammer Films: The Unsung Heroes, by Wayne Kinsey)

** Fun Fact #5: In Sangster’s first draft of the script, La Roche was known as Captain Doom.

Jason Standing

Apart from LaRoche, one of the most complex characters is Jason Standing, played with intensity by the always reliable Andrew Keir. He’s a man with deep convictions, but a tortured soul, nonetheless. Nothing rests easy on his conscience, mired in his unquestioning fealty to the village council and their twisted interpretation of faith, yet aware of the terrible price he pays for his zealotry. Jason arguably emerges as the film’s true villain, using his obstinance as a shield. He’s willing to sacrifice the lives of his community for his ideals, reasoning their immortal souls take precedence over any worldly comforts.


The film also features a much more substantial role for Michael Ripper,* usually relegated to playing a constable, barkeep, or similar ancillary character. He stands out, as LaRoche’s capricious right-hand man, Mack, whose loyalty proves to be merely skin deep. In a moment of drunken indiscretion, he openly mocks his captain, serving to erode LaRoche’s tenuous grasp on his crew. Ripper often delivers his lines with a devilish grin, hinting that his character is scheming something. Oliver Reed and Peter Arne also provide some good moments as pirates Brocaire and Hench, respectively. In a memorable scene, proving there’s little honor amongst thieves, they duel with blindfolds for the right to defile Jonathon’s sister, Bess (Marla Landi).

* Fun Fact #6: With 33 credits to his name for Hammer films alone, Ripper owns the distinction of appearing in more of the production company’s films than any other actor.

LaRoche and Jonathon

When The Pirates of Blood River debuted in the U.K., playing on a double bill with Mysterious Island, it chalked off another success for Hammer, paving the way for more swashbucklers. As a piece of entertainment, it’s somewhat uneven, due to its lack of shipboard action, and the fact that the romantic possibilities are reduced to nil at the beginning. Anyone looking for those elements might be disappointed, but the film compensates with some fine performances by Lee, Ripper, and Keir (especially Lee’s idiosyncratic portrayal of La Roche).  


Sources for this article: Christopher Lee, Tall, Dark and Gruesome, by Christopher Lee; The Hammer Story, by Marcus Hearn and Alan Barnes; The Hammer Vault, by Marcus Hearn; Hammer Films: The Unsung Heroes, by Wayne Kinsey; “14 Fun Facts About Piranhas,” by Helen Thompson, Smithsonian Magazine

The Christopher Lee Blogathon

The Christopher Lee Blogathon – Day 2 Recap

The Christopher Lee Blogathon

Whew! I hope you’ve had time to catch your breath, dear reader, because it’s time for Day Two of the Christopher Lee Blogathon. Today, you’ll find seven spectacular posts spanning multiple genres, from historical drama, to sword and sandal, and westerns.  

Scream of Fear

If you plan to participate but you’re not quite ready, don’t fret, we’ll post your link on Day Three (Pssst! Rumor has it there might be a Bonus fourth day, as well, if you need a bit more time). And of course, it’s never too late to join. Post a comment below, email me at, or reach me on Twitter (@barry_cinematic). You may also contact Gill by commenting on her post, through her blog’s Contact Me page, or on Twitter (@realweegiemidge).

The Curse of Frankenstein

In addition to today’s links, be sure to visit the Day 1 Recap, and stay tuned for Day 3!

And here we go with Day Two’s submissions…

Jinnah Poster     

Steven Thompson from Booksteve’s Library examines the controversial biopic, Jinnah (1998).

Hercules in the Haunted World Poster

Stabford Deathrage from Stabford Deathrage Shoots His Mouth Off gives us his unique take (as only Mr. Deathrage can) on Hercules in the Haunted World (1961).

Christopher Lee - Count Dooku

Rebecca Deniston from Taking Up Room proves nobody doesn’t like Christopher Lee, when she looks back at some of his more surprising film and TV appearances.

The Avengers - Never Say Die

Don’t touch that dial! Mitchell Hadley from It’s About TV looks at The Avengers episode, "Never Say Die."

How the West was Won

Caftan Woman wins us over, discussing Mr. Lee’s appearance on TV’s How the West Was Won (1978).

Return from Witch Mountain

What happens when you mix Lee with Disney? Eric Binford from Diary of a Movie Maniac lets us know in his review of Return from Witch Mountain (1978).

Alice in Wonderland Poster

Movie Rob returns to take us down the rabbit hole with Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Friday, May 21, 2021

The Christopher Lee Blogathon Is Here – Day 1 Recap


The Christopher Lee Blogathon

After months of planning, the big day has finally arrived. Yours Truly and my co-host with the most, Gill Jacob of Realweegiemidget Reviews, proudly present Day 1 of the Christopher Lee Blogathon! It’s an honor to dedicate this three-day event to one of my all-time favorite actors, who was the embodiment of wit, charm and continental sophistication. There are not enough superlatives in the English language to adequately describe the formidable talent and prodigious exploits of a man who lived a life that would have made James Bond envious. We’re kicking off this blogathon with an impressive batch of posts that would undoubtedly bring a smile to Sir Lee’s typically resolute face.

The Mummy

If you plan to participate but you’re not quite ready, don’t fret, we’ll post your link on Day Two. And of course, it’s never too late to join. Post a comment below, email me at, or reach me on Twitter (@barry_cinematic). You may also contact Gill by commenting on her post, through her blog’s Contact Me page, or on Twitter (@realweegiemidge).

The Wicker Man

Please enjoy Day 1’s submissions below, and remember to tune in Saturday and Sunday for recaps of days two and three!

To the Devil a Daughter Poster
To the blogathon a blog post: Angelman from Angelman’s Place reviews To theDevil a Daughter (1976).

Corridors of Blood Poster

Lê from Critica Retro walks us through the Corridors of Blood (1958)

Beyond Mombasa Poster

Can one man save a movie? Silver Screenings certainly thinks so, taking us one step Beyond Mombasa (1956).

Diagnosis - Murder Poster

It’s no mystery that you should check out Movie Rob’s review of Diagnosis: Murder (1974).

Horror of Dracula Poster

The Grump of Horror is our fearless guide to Hammer’s Dracula (aka: Horror of Dracula) (1958).

The Whip and the Body Poster

Dick Scott of The Oak Drive-In reviews the Franco-Italian production, The Whip and the Body (aka: La frusta e il Corpo; or What!) (1963).

Island of the Burning Damned_Poster
Things get toasty when Brian Schuck of Films from Beyond the Time Barrier takes a gander at Night of the Big Heat (aka: Island of the Burning Damned) (1967).

The Wicker Man Poster

Terence Towles Canote of A Shroud of Thoughts invites us to visit Lord Summerisle in the folk horror classic, The Wicker Man (1973)

Nothing But the Night Poster

John L. Harmon of Tales from the Freakboy Zone bids us good evening, with a look at NothingBut the Night (1973).

Secret of the Red Orchid Poster

Holger Hasse from Hallo, Hier Spricht, lets us in on the Secret of the Red Orchid (aka: Das Rätsel der roten Orchidee) (1962).

The Devil Rides Out Poster

Gill Jacob of Realweegiemidget Reviews shows a different side of Christopher Lee, protecting us from evil in The Devil Rides Out (aka: The Devil’s Bride) (1968).