Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Merry Christmas

Merry 'samtsirhc' and a happy new year to all the readers of this blog (thankfully I managed to get it the right way round on the 2nd attempt)

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Devil Girl from Mars (1954)

Ever watched a film and been constantly distracted by the thought “I bet that actress received more than her fair share of kinky fan mail on account of this role”. Such is the case with Devil Girl from Mars, a characteristically cheapo production from quota quickie merchants The Danziger brothers (check out how many plant pots went on making the arms of the robot henchman). Devil Girl contains possibly the most quintessentially British line ever uttered in a sci-fi movie (“while we’re still alive we might as well have a cup of tea”), but really deserves cult immortality on account of the high camp spectacle that is Patricia Laffan’s merciless villainess Nyah, a female space invader intent on abducting earth men for breeding purposes. Resplendent in black leather with matching cape and helmet, and dishing out cruel but hilarious put downs (“It amuses me to watch your puny efforts!”), Nyah anticipates the leather and fem-dom obsessions of 1960s fetish mags like Bizarre Life, at the same time I wouldn’t even begin to speculate how many young women first realised they were gay while watching Patricia Laffan in this film.

Devil Girl from Mars beats Mars Needs Woman (1967) to the punch when it came to taking a gay lead, dressing them up in leather and casting them, somewhat ironically, as a character hell-bent on heterosexual procreation. Devil Girl’s leather boots also kicked the doors open for Spaced Out, Lifeforce, Species, and all the other sci-fi movies paradoxically enamoured with, yet terrified of, female sexuality.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Carnivore: Werewolf of London (2017) – round two

First of all, a bit of a confession. The last review I did of Carnivore: Werewolf of London was so short because the person who lent me the DVD wanted it back the next day so they could exchange it for a CEX voucher. If you couldn’t tell, they didn’t think too much of the film (“the only decent thing about it was that bird in the tight dress”), i on the other hand, have to say, i liked the film allot, enough to pick up the DVD myself and give it a bit more of a thorough write-up. So consider this Carnivore: Werewolf of London- round two.

In all honesty my first reaction to seeing the DVD cover of Carnivore: Werewolf of London –in the West Kirby Branch of ASDA- was “please let this live up to at least a tenth of what’s promised by that DVD cover, I’m not asking for the whole 100%, just a tenth of it and I’ll be happy”. That DVD cover, is quite simply a work of art, take a bow whoever put that together, it really does do the job of catching your eye and making it stand out from the Supermarket DVD pack. OK, it is guilty of promising more than the film delivers, but you’ve got to be pretty naive to the ways of Supermarket DVDs to think that a DVD cover can be trusted to depict the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Shameless exaggeration has after all been one of the long-time hallmarks of B-movies, and their dishonesty part of the overall experience, so why should the Supermarket DVD era be held to greater account. In a way these Supermarket DVDs hark back to the very early days of video, where distributors had on their hands films starring and made by people whose names wouldn’t mean much to the average person, and so entirely had to sell these films on the basis of an outrageous cover or a tag-line that compared the film to much more well known fare. Where once you’d have the VHS release of GBH (1983) hyping itself as “more brutal than The Long Good Friday”, these days Supermarket DVDs like to lay claims to be “Robocop meets Mad Max” or “The Terminator meets Universal Soldier”. Really, little has changed since the pre-cert video days.

Carnivore: Werewolf of London’s prized DVD cover quote is “very similar to Dog Soldiers but with civilians”, which i don’t think is quite as ballsy or catchy as “more brutal than The Long Good Friday”, but on the other hand it does lay out the film’s MO, and it’s difficult to argue with that assessment. That quote does at least let you know what you’re in for, allot more so than the DVD cover, which conveniently forgets to mention that only the final scene in the film and about 5 seconds at the start are actually set in London. The film opens with an aerial shot of Piccadilly Circus –i guess someone must have bought the director a drone for Christmas- and until the end scene that is pretty much your lot as far as London goes. After that briefest of trips to Piccadilly Circus we’re off to a countryside rental cottage, where two young lovebirds Dave and Abi hope to spend a romantic time. Dave is played by Ben Loyd-Holmes, a shaved headed, muscular actor in the Jason Statham/Luke Goss vein. I don’t think the film ever goes into Dave’s background much, but he is the type you can imagine working as a cage fighter during weekdays. For all his hardman appearance and swagger though, Dave is actually a likeable, ok kind of a guy. Surprisingly romantic and attentive to the needs of his lady love, Dave isn’t above preparing a meal for his girlfriend while she takes a bath, even throwing in a few dance moves in the process. During the whole dance/food preparing montage the sight of Dave chucking the flower around prompted a friend of mine (who was half-heartily watching the film whilst reading a book) to look up and enquire “are they using cocaine?”

For all of the time and effort Dave puts into preparing the meal, the end results aren’t really all that impressive. The fruits of Dave’s labour being this feeble, cheap looking Steak and Ale pie which looks like something you’d pick up in Iceland and stick in the microwave for a few minutes. Still it does appear to have the intended result.

Who knew a Steak and Ale pie was such an aphrodisiac? One of the many things you can learn from Carnivore: Werewolf of London. We also have to talk about the other half of this couple, American Abi, played by Atlanta Johnson...no relation to Dakota...she actually bears more of a resemblance to a young Kim Cattrall.

Where do we even begin when it comes to talking about Miss Abigail...how much you get out of Carnivore: Werewolf of London might depend on your response to this character, Abi does walk a very thin tightrope line between being adorable and being grating. If you do find yourself in the latter camp then Carnivore: Werewolf of London may prove to be a very long 80 minutes indeed. Even Dave, who is meant to be madly in love with her, can’t resist doing a mocking imitation of her speaking voice at one point (Atlanta Johnson being the latest in a long line of British thesps to adopt an American accent in a home grown B-movie, a tradition going back to the days of Fire Maidens from Outer Space). Kooky and high-maintenance may be among the kinder ways to describe Abi, her yo-yo relationship with Dave isn’t so much a whirlwind romance than a full on hurricane. She loves him, she loves him not, she loves him...Dave is never quite sure where he stands with Abi. One minute Dave is proposing marriage to her, the next she is turning him down and complaining that their relationship was just meant to be a short term thing. Then when a crestfallen Dave storms out of the room, Abi does an emotional 180%, tries on his ring, starts showing it off to her imaginary friends, begins dancing with one of them, then nearly dies of embarrassment when Dave comes back into the room and catches her errr...dancing with herself.

Intentionally or not these early scenes do evoke memories of all those Red Shoe Diaries type erotic thrillers of the 1980s and 1990s, with this young, affluent couple working on their relationship ‘issues’ and having all this passionate sex amidst a pleasant backdrop of scented candles, scattered rose petals and acoustic love songs. The film does pay particular homage to the famous food scene in 9 and a half weeks, when Dave blindfolds Abi and begins feeding her dark chocolate, i guess it’s a step up from Steak and Ale pie!! It’s a testament to either how much i like this film, or how easy on the eye Atlanta Johnson is, that i can tolerate the fact that the red dress Abi wears throughout the film constantly reminds you of a certain Chris De Burgh song. One of the unintended downsides to Carnivore: Werewolf of London, for sure.

No character in Carnivore: Werewolf of London is ever going to win prizes for logical behaviour, in fact Dave and Abi may well be the uncrowned King and Queen of illogical movie behaviour. One minute Dave and Abi are hearing heavy breathing noises outside, appear in fear of their lives and are making sure all the windows and doors are locked. A few minutes later they’re ripping off their clothes and having sex again, this time on their backdoor, whilst the werewolf watches them from the woods and –how can i put this?- appears to be knocking one off to the sight of them doing the business.

At which point Carnivore: Werewolf of London stops being “very similar to 9 and a half weeks, but with werewolves” and does indeed start to make good on being “very similar to Dog Soldiers, but with civilians”. Much as it feels just like yesterday that Dog Soldiers was released, the appearance of a film like this does drive it home that Dog Soldiers is now 16 years old, and that there are people who’ve grown up with Dog Soldiers and are now making their own films that are following in its paw prints. I suppose Dog Soldiers is a good blueprint for all low-budget, rookie filmmakers trying to get a foothold into feature filmmaking, with its simple location, small cast and ‘home invasion’ premise. In an age of lazy, done on the cheap CGI, it is pleasantly surprising to discover the werewolf here is mostly a practical, old school, man in a suit. The werewolf itself puts you in mind of a bad guy character from a 1980s cartoon like Masters of the Universe or Thundercats. Scary enough to impress the kids, but with a slightly goofy quality to it, to pacify any parents who might be thinking twice about letting their kids watch this show or buy the tie-in action figures.

Carnivore: Werewolf of London doesn’t short change the viewer when it comes to werewolf action, thankfully this isn’t one of those films where you see a claw in the half hour, a shadow at the hour mark and the full creature for the last 5 seconds. Once all the lovey-dovey/heavy breathing stuff is out of the way, the werewolf is rarely off-screen. At the same time, director Simon Wells seems to have a good idea of how much of the werewolf he can get away with showing. Setting the film entirely at night does obviously hide a multitude of sins, and only in a handful of wide shots does the werewolf really look like a man in a bear suit. As for the actual CGI that is in the film- chiefly shots of the werewolf jumping through a window and trying to burrow through the roof- well i suppose the werewolf does resemble a character from a 1980s cartoon show in that sense as well!! Once you’ve seen those shots it really does make you glad that this film favours the practical, bad CGI being the ruin of many a poor 21st century horror film.

No review of Carnivore: Werewolf of London can fail to touch upon Dave’s misguided, ill-advised yet unswerving belief that the best way of defending yourself against a werewolf is by arming yourself with a rolling pin. Yes, Carnivore: Werewolf of London really does tear up the rule book when it comes to werewolves, forget all that stuff about silver bullets, what really strikes fear into the hearts of werewolves everywhere is a good old fashioned rolling pin. Full credit to Ben Loyd-Holmes for trying to look all heroic and macho, while running around with that rolling pin.

Curiosity about the Carnivore: Werewolf of London cast did lead me in the direction of another hitherto unknown British horror short “Predator: Dark Ages” (2015). A half hour Predator fan film, set in medieval times, which pits a bunch of templar knights against the alien hunter from the 20th century fox film franchise, and represents another attempt by Ben Loyd-Holmes to muscle in on the action movie market. As is the case with most fan films you can watch Predator: Dark Ages for free on Youtube, and while the words ‘fan film’ automatically set the alarm bells ringing, Predator: Dark Ages surpassed all expectations. Production values, acting and storytelling are well above average for a fan film, and the period setting transcends its initial novelty value and succeeds in bringing something new and fresh to that franchise, albeit in an unofficial capacity. I’d definitely have no problem with putting both Carnivore: Werewolf of London and Predator: Dark Ages on a top ten list of my cinematic discoveries of 2018.

Ben Loyd-Holmes does actually get a bit ‘Arnie in Predator’ towards the end of Carnivore: Werewolf of London as well, what with Dave stripping off his shirt and running about the woods with a lit torch. Dave maybe needs to work on his Predator-esque one liners though, his shout out/challenge to the werewolf of “Hey...I’m calling the police” falls a bit below the Schwarzenegger standard. Even miss scaredy pants Abi manages to come up with better one liners when she goes all Sarah Conner towards the end of the film and starts dishing out remarks like “we’re checking out early” and “i’m gonna put you down”.

Carnivore: Werewolf of London also doubles as a great advert for the cottage they filmed it at, which if the film is anything to go by, may well be the most secure cottage in England. Try as it might that werewolf just can’t seem to break into the place. Even though elsewhere in the film it rips off a man’s arm and can pull people to shreds, smashing down a small wooden door of this cottage appears to be beyond it, and it fails to even put a scratch into that door. Strangely enough Dave is similarly unsuccessful in his later attempts to blow up the cottage with the werewolf in it, it’s almost as if one of the provisos for filming at this cottage was that they cause no interior or exterior damage, resulting in what is possibly the most considerate werewolf rampage ever seen on film. The werewolf might think nothing about tearing people limb from limb but it always makes sure to never cause any damage to the property itself, no broken windows, no smashed up rooms, nothing that would cause you to lose your deposit on the place. Although it does leave some dirty footprints on the bathroom floor at one point.

Seemingly impenetrable to damage from man or beast, the cottage comes across as the Captain Scarlet of holiday lets, it’s simply indestructible. A plot point that is even more absurd when you discover that the cottage is part of a nefarious scheme to lure hapless tourists to the place fully in the knowledge that they’ll be slaughtered by the werewolf. The brains behind this scheme being a sinister old farmer. Known simply as ‘The Man’, he is played by Gregory Cox an actor with extensive film and TV credits going back to the 1980s, his other claim to fame within the horror genre being having played the Jason Voorhees parody character Jackson in the 1989 horror spoof ‘Unmasked part 25: Jackson’s Back’. As i said earlier, characters in this film aren’t overly blessed in the logical behaviour department, since The Man’s end game is to have the werewolf kill everyone who stays at the cottage, why does he make it so secure that the werewolf has such a struggle to get into the place, frequently requiring its human sidekick to open doors for it. ‘The Man’ is also portrayed as this luddite yokel who goes around mumbling “wi-fi, there is no wi-fi, city folk!!!”, yet this cottage is tailor made to the needs of your average millennial, the place even has bluetooth and mobile phone chargers ferchristssake!!

Whatever else can be said about it Carnivore: Werewolf of London is a very 21st century British horror film, tapping into all of today’s frightmares about being trapped in a place without a decent wi-fi connection and with characters forced to venture outside and risk certain death in order to get a decent mobile phone signal. The film also taps into less common fears about having what looks like shit smeared on you by an old man. Part of The Man’s scheme being to rub this crap on unsuspecting people, which according to the rules of this film automatically attracts the werewolf. At one point The Man shakes Dave’s hand leaving Dave with all this gooey brown crap on his hands, which Dave just assumes is the sort of thing that country folk have on their hands all day. Apparently the crap in question is actually meant to be pheromone, but this isn’t really made clear in the film and instead it just looks like The Man is throwing diarrhoea around at all and sundry. Which makes a moment towards the end of the film, where The Man ties up Abi in a barn and smears this crap all over her mouth, seem especially gross.

Your heart really does go out to Atlanta Johnson, a fashion model making her first serious steps into acting here, in a role that requires her to put on an American accent, be hung up in a barn, and have blood and shit thrown on her. Talk about being flung into the deep end of the often unglamorous world of acting. Atlanta really does prove herself to be quite the little trooper here.

Carnivore: Werewolf of London does also pose the question “what does a film have to do to get an 18 certificate these days”. There is a very, very small disclaimer on the back of the DVD admitting that the film itself only managed a 15 certificate from the BBFC and that the DVD itself was upgraded to an 18 certificate on account of the DVD extras. Which doesn’t make a whole lick of sense because the extras on the DVD are just behind the scenes/talking head material and trailers for a pair of direct to DVD westerns (The Legend of Ben Hall, Lonesome Dove Church) nothing that would get you a higher rating. The film’s 15 certificate does seem like a source of embarrassment here, and rightly so, because this film has nudity, ass sex, entrails being pulled out, eyeballs being eaten, all of which would have easily earned an 18 certificate in days gone by. In an age where film distributors are frequently cutting films down to get a more commercial 15 certificate, its rather endearing that the makers of this film appear to have voluntarily put this out as an 18 certificated DVD, for fear that their film would otherwise be mistaken for a boring, bloodless horror film.

Carnivore: Werewolf of London is packed to the rafters with laughability, at the same time this isn’t an out and out, unmistakable horror comedy like I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle or The Revenge of Billy the Kid. Instead it’s more of the Horror Hospital school of films that can play as a straightforward horror movie if that’s what you want from it, yet is also a film that openly invites you to laugh along with it, should you so desire. On the surface everything is played straight and as sober as a judge, but the DVD extras do tip you off that the filmmakers’ tongues were slightly in their cheeks. Going into the film blind though, especially as a first time watch, you’re never quite sure whether the preposterous nature of what is unfolding before your eyes is meant to be legitimately funny or not. Its star, Atlanta Johnson, describes it as a “chill with pizza, laugh, get scared, watch the gore and enjoy” movie, and that pretty much nails it. It’s certainly head and shoulders above most films with the words ‘Howling’, ‘The’ and a number in the title (faint praise, admittedly) is the first, and likely last time, you’re going to see a werewolf knock one off in the woods and be violently beaten about the head with a rolling pin, and is heartening proof that the British B movie is alive and well and available for a few quid at your local supermarket. The world is truly a better place for having Carnivore: Werewolf of London in it, let’s hope for sequels, they could do one for each British town....Carnivore: Werewolf of Skegness....Carnivore: Werewolf of Scunthorpe....the possibilities are endless.

Monday, 19 November 2018

The Blood Beast Terror (1968)

" 'ere Tony and Laurie I've got this cracking idea for a film, there is this posh bird called Clare, only problem is whenever she gets all randy ...she turns into this bloody giant big moth and drinks a geezer's blood. So her father- who is a professor - makes a big male moth for her to mate with and as a future son-in-law for himself" How whoever pitched The Blood Beast Terror wasn't laughed out of Tigon's offices, not to mention the entire British film industry remains one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th Century.

Robert Flemyng, surely the poshest actor to ever come out of Liverpool, apparently hated every moment of working on this film, and boy does it show. There is more than a touch of authenticity in the way his character is continually yelling and blowing his top at everyone. A drinking game could be based on the amount of times Robert Flemyng loses his shit in this film. Thankfully, other actors appear to have taken a more humorous attitude to appearing in Blood Beast Terror, which does continually bleed on over into the film. Roy Hudd must have been using his own material for his role as the comic relief morgue attendant , but Peter Cushing steals the show with THAT sign off, which doubles as the film’s own greatest epitaph (“they’ll never believe it anywhere”). A final line sure to resonate throughout the decades with late night TV viewers who’ve spent the last 80 minutes or so trying to comprehend the fact that they’re watching a film about a killer, ‘were-moth’ lady.

One last thought, is ‘Billy the Bug Catcher’ the biggest drip to ever appear in a British horror film? His only pleasure in life is seemingly capturing butterflies in a net, for which he is continually belittled and reprimanded by women for, then nearly gets himself killed over when he ill-advisedly presents Ms. Deaths Head with a dead, distant relative of hers in a small box. Dennis Waterman’s wet lettuce of a character in Scars of Dracula seems positively macho in comparison.

Confessions of a Window Cleaner tweet along

My contributions to The Film Crowd’s live tweet along to Confessions of a Window Cleaner (1974) over on twitter, its not easy to watch a film, tweet and correctly spell Vladimir Tretchikoff at the same time I’ll have you know.

Friday, 9 November 2018

The Masque of the Red Death (1989)

For reasons that I’ve never been able to pin-down there was an influx of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations in the late 1980s and early 90s. Roger Corman did a 1989 remake of The Masque of the Red Death starring Patrick Macnee, Stuart Gordon made a version of The Pit and the Pendulum, Romero and Argento teamed up for the joint Poe adaptation Two Evil Eyes and Christopher Lee took off to Croatia to host the ropey ‘Tales of Mystery and Imagination’ Poe TV series. One would hope that this flurry of interest in Poe was solely motived by a love and respect for one of the masters of American horror literature, and had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that Poe’s work had entered into the public domain, meaning that any Tom, Dick and Harry Alan Towers could adapt his work. Never one to miss a trend the notorious film producer Harry Alan Towers came up with his own versions of The Masque of the Red Death and The House of Usher in 1989, closely followed up by Edgar Allan Poe’s Buried Alive in 1990.

As tends to be the case with Towers’ Poe adaptations this version of The Masque of the Red Death plays fast and loose with the source material. It’s an aggressively modern updating of Poe’s story that drags Poe kicking and screaming into an era of power ballads, slasher movies and Dynasty. So instead of a medieval Italian setting, where characters gather at the castle of the morally corrupt Prince Prospero, it’s the 20th century and we’re getting our glad rags on to attend a costume party at the castle of the wealthy, yet shady film producer Ludwig (Herbert Lom). As Ludwig has enjoyed recent success with a series of film adaptations of Poe, he repays his gratitude to the great man by staging Poe themed costume parties, this year’s theme being The Masque of the Red Death. A gathering that as well as drawing Ludwig’s usual crowd of hangers on, famous friends and assorted Eurotrash, also attracts plucky tabloid photographer Rebecca (Michelle McBride) who works for a National Enquirer type rag called The Snoop. Rebecca’s goal is to dish the dirt on soap opera actress Elaina Hart (Brenda Vaccaro) who can usually be relied upon to make a drunken fool of herself at public occasions. Rebecca isn’t the only one determined to gate crash Ludwig’s bash though. One of his guests appears intent on reducing Ludwig’s inner circle and is slashing his or her way through the guest list whilst dressed as the ‘Red Death’ from Poe’s story.

The Masque of the Red Death is a lively, yet crass, Poe cash grab, there is allot going on in it, the film has that in its favour for sure. Almost too much going on in it, there is a whole subplot about Ludwig having secretive meetings with a female doctor who injects him with a serum that prolongs his life, which initially looks as if it’s going to play a major part in the plot, but ultimately goes nowhere. Elsewhere it feels as if the writer was getting an extra bonus every time he worked another Poe story into the plot. Thus, we get a dream sequence modelled on The Tell-Tale Heart, Ludwig installs a giant pendulum in his castle as a homage to The Pit and the Pendulum, which the moment you lay eyes on it you just know is going to be put to a gristly use at some point. A black cat is also thrown into the proceedings at one point, quite literally, painfully landing on a kitchen sink and then limping off never to be seen again. All of which lends The Masque of the Red Death the appearance of a ‘greatest hits but not by the original artist’ package.

For all of the Poe pilfering at work here, this Masque of the Red Death self-consciously roots itself in the world of 1989. It’s very much Poe as slasher movie fodder, you can tell that Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street ruled the roost when it came to horror cinema of the time, and that Harry Alan Towers wanted as much a slice of their pie as he did Edgar Allan Poe’s. This was the era of attention grabbing, elaborate kill scenes and the wisecracking ghoul. In 1989 every new horror movie killer wanted to be Jason or Freddy and the ‘Red Death’ is no exception.
As well as being a serial killer the Red Death is something of a serial plagiarist as well, who appears to have taken fashion tips from the Royal Guard in Star Wars, speaks with a Freddy Krueger voice and has a similar line in groan inducing one liners. “Get the facts straight before someone does a hatchet job on you” quips the Red Death before sinking a hatchet into someone’s back. Inexplicably the Red Death also appears to also be channelling Muttley from the Wacky Races, and has a habit of sneaking up behind people and doing the Muttley laugh.

Comparisons between the 1960s Roger Corman Masque of the Red Death and this version really do validate the claim that period piece horror films tend to dodge the bullet of dating as badly as films set in the present day. The Corman version retains a timeless feel and doesn’t automatically feel like a movie from the 1960s, whereas everything about this Masque of the Red Death positively screams “now that’s what I call 1989”. The film seems to take immense pleasure in modernising the source material at every possible turn. Beginning as it means to go on with Rebecca’s flash sports car speeding around the Bavarian mountains, thereafter throwing around mod cons like CCTV cameras like confetti, while the costumed guests evoke the tail end of the New Romantics era. Entertainment for Ludwig’s guests comes in the form of a soft rock band, headed by a poor man’s Roger Daltrey, who valiantly try to keep the party atmosphere going even when the bodies start to pile up around them.

On the other hand Harry Alan Towers productions like this were all about tapping into the here and now, striking while the iron was hot, exploiting the trends, fashion and music of the times, without a care for the fact that within the space of a few years the film would be considered dated and a laughing stock. These days The Masque of the Red Death is a time capsule of the late 1980s VHS era, when all the small scale video rental shops helped create a market for B-level product. Want to rent the latest Hollywood blockbuster starring the likes of Sylvester Stallone, only to find your local video shop’s sole copy of it has already been rented out for the night? Then chances are that rather than return home empty handed you might be persuaded to rent out a B-list, shot in South Africa movie starring the likes of Frank Stallone. That was the little niche that films like The Masque of the Red Death owed their existence to, an existence that would be dealt a fatal blow with the rise of Blockbuster Video in the 1990s. Once corporately owned video shops came along offering multiple copies of the latest blockbuster, who was really interested in settling for second best and taking a film like The Masque of the Red Death home with them.

As is the norm with Harry Alan Towers productions from this period, The Masque of the Red Death was made amidst the remnants of Cannon films. Menahem Golan’s 21st Century films company released the film, while former Cannon alumnus Avi Lerner co-produced the film with Towers. The cast are your typical Harry Alan Towers ensemble of washed up actors, B Level stars and wannabe scream queens…here playing exaggerated and often unflattering versions of themselves. Brenda Vaccaro is a scream as the trashy, sweary, drunk soap opera actress who has hooked up with a toyboy (Frank Stallone) and tears into any woman who dares look twice at him. Vaccaro is even more over the top here than she was in Supergirl, chewing up the scenery and spitting out head turning dialogue like “the only thing the sun ever did for me was burn my ass”. Frank Stallone is well…Frank Stallone, in fairness he is not the worst actor in the film, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that he only got the gig because of the facial resemblance to his more famous sibling…which does at least lend the film some novelty value.

Unlike in brother Sly’s movies, Frank doesn’t get to sing in this one, but he does get to show off his dance moves, at one point jumping up on the tables and performing the tango with one of his female co-stars. A scene that comes out of nowhere and feels as if it was born out of Stallone letting slip that he was a decent dancer on set, and someone then throwing this scene together to capitalize on this factoid. The rest of the younger cast are pretty forgettable, though your heart does go out to lead actress Michelle McBride, who spends the entirety of the film dressed in a cupid costume that doesn’t do her figure any favours. “Awfully small breasted for a dress like that” bitches Elaina.

A pity that the self-referential elements of the film tend to get thrown aside as the film progresses. What with his motley showbiz entourage, Herbert Lom’s 20th century answer to Price Prospero invites comparisons to Harry Alan Towers himself. Although with his hair dyed blonde and combed forward to within an inch of its life, plus a penchant for significantly younger, trophy girlfriends, it’s now difficult to not mischievously draw comparisons between Ludwig and a certain American president. The Melania to Ludwig’s Donald being Colette (Christine Lunde) a talentless actress with supermodel good looks and an often incomprehensible foreign accent. Okay, Colette is actually French which does prove an obstacle when it comes to the Melania comparisons, but as the actress playing the role frequently seems to forget that Colette is meant to be French as well, it’s not a huge obstacle. There are many moments in this film where you do have to pinch yourself to remind you that this is a film from 1989, and isn’t meant as a satirical hatchet job on Donald and Melania Trump, even if it now plays like that.

Always the pro, Herbert Lom could do screen villainy in his sleep, but Ludwig is a character who goes against expectations. Built up as a mysterious, Howard Hughes type control freak, Ludwig is eventually revealed to be a rather pitiful figure, whose only crimes are to try and buy friendships and overindulge those around him. Whereas Vincent Price in the 1964 film was a despicable bastard who thoroughly deserved his comeuppance, Ludwig mainly evokes sympathy when the finger of suspicion falls on him and his paranoid friends turn against him “this party is just a scapegoat, a trap to get us here and kill us off one by one. You’re dying, so the way your sick mind works, we must all die too”.

Considering that Harry Alan Towers began the 1980s with a spate of softcore costume dramas, and continued in a similar vein with the pornographically minded Edge of Sanity, The Masque of the Red Death is surprisingly reserved in that department. While you’d expect everyone at an affluent late 1980s party at a castle to be bed hoping and knee deep in cocaine there is nothing that decadent on the menu at Ludwig’s place. The chief form of excitement being –I kid ye not- a Faberge Easter Egg hunt, surely a slasher movie first when it comes to ways of sending characters off to their deaths. Softcore sex may have fallen out of favour in Harry Alan Towers’ world by this point, but violence was still very much in fashion. No one gets a simple death in this film, hands are hacked off, people are stabbed then have acid thrown in their faces, Ludwig’s pendulum costs one character their head, while another has their skin stretched with metal hooks, Hellraiser-style.

Faced with demises like that, it’s no surprise that most of Ludwig’s guests make a speedy exit. Not all manage to escape though before Ludwig turns on the castle’s hi-tech security system, trapping all of the key characters behind the castle’s walls for six hours. At which point you realise that Edgar Allan Poe has been thrown out of the window and you’ve been suckered into watching yet another one of Harry Alan Towers’ adaptations of Ten Little Indians. In the land of Harry Alan Towers all roads lead to Ten Little Indians. Just who is the ‘Red Death’ though? The Roger Daltrey-esque rock star?, Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend Max?, the gay German manservant Hans?, the British fashion designer Kitra?, or has Melania/Colette finally snapped after suffering one too many insults over her acting ability (“she can’t even screw her way into an acting job these days”). Let’s just say that all these years on from the Pink Panther movies, a character with an overcooked French accent still poses a threat to Herbert Lom.

The late 1980s was a very busy period for Harry Alan Towers. The fact that the Masque of the Red Death shares its sets with his 1989 version of The House of Usher, and three cast members (Herbert Lom, Brenda Vaccaro and Frank Stallone) with his 1989 version of Ten Little Indians, would indicate that all three of those films were shot in close proximity, if not back to back. Who says men are no good at multi-tasking, take a bow Harry Alan Towers.

The director of both Towers’ 1989 versions of The Masque of the Red Death and The House of Usher was Alan Birkinshaw, a graduate of British exploitation cinema, who began his feature film career with the sex comedy Confessions of a Sex Maniac (1974), but whose cult reputation rests on his second film 1978’s Killer’s Moon, one of the most laughably inept British horror films of the 1970s. As tends to be the case with British exploitation film directors who hadn’t thrown in the towel by the 1980s, Birkinshaw spent most of that decade working overseas for B movie producers like Towers and Dick Randall. For all of the ribbing Birkinshaw has taken over the years on account of Killer’s Moon, a film that once earned him the cruel yet wickedly funny nickname of ‘Edward Clumsyhands ’, his direction here is of a much more professional standard. Nothing outstanding, but certainly on a par with any of the other directors who were on the Harry Alan Towers payroll at the time.

When it comes to Edward Clumsyhands’ 1980s employers, I’ve always favoured Dick Randall’s film productions over those of Harry Alan Towers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m under no illusions that lining his pockets with the profits of film producing was as much Dick Randall’s endgame as it was Towers. To me though there is more heart and personality at work in Randall’s productions, and Randall comes across as quite the showman who enjoyed giving the public what they wanted. Whereas with Towers, you get the impression that film making was nothing more than a business transaction to him. Strictly a matter of signing the cheques, assembling a few down on their luck actors at whatever country offered the best tax breaks, letting 90 minutes of film run through the camera, depositing the profits in a Swiss bank account, then paying a few backhanders to the Russian mafia, before moving on to the next adaption of the work of an author whose material is in the public domain.

The Masque of the Red Death is one of only a few Towers’ productions to capture me in its crooked spell and that still is a blast even after multiple viewings. C’mon who cannot fall slightly for a version of The Masque of the Red Death in which the Red Death laughs like Muttley, or which ends with an almighty cat fight worthy of an Alexis/Krystle bust-up. The Masque of the Red Death is a treasure chest of 1980s trash. It’s even worth enduring that strange buzzing sound you hear in your head the day after you’ve watched it, a noise that is either the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe turning in his grave or the ghost of Harry Alan Towers laughing all the way to the bank.