Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Count Dracula Playbook

Gather around kiddies! Once again we’re taking a trip through the horror movie way back machine. You see, kids, 1970 was a much simpler time when it came to vampire horror. The vampire, for example, was usually modeled after Bella Lugosi’s classic Count Dracula - glowy, bloodshot eyes, slicked-back hair, usually older and, therefore more distinguished. Also, no matter what time period the story takes place in, our lead vampire is usually clad in a dark suit with a cape and a big, red jeweled necklace. You see because people from Transylvania or Bavaria, or Birmingham or wherever are always dressed in formal attire wherever they go.

Oh, and they have an accent, but not usually Bella Lugosi’s accent. They’re usually British, cause, you know, close enough.

So! Count Yorga, Vampire starts off following the established protocol for Christopher Lee era horror movies -- Creepy and obvious vampire guy seducing several young women -- but really just wants one of them -- and the men in their lives come running to the rescue. It stars Robert Quarry, Roger Perry, Michael Murphy, Michael Macready, Donna Anders, Judy Lang, Edward Walsh, and Karen Black lookalike Marsha Jordan.

Okay, so, stay with me, here. Donna (Anders) and her friends have decided to invite spiritualist and ex-boyfriend of her mother Count Yorga(Quarry) over to perform a seance in order to reach her mother, who’s recently deceased. Erica’s friends are all pretty much like “what a fun evening activity! This is so much better than Yatzhee night!” Everyone, that is except her fiance, Michael (Macready) who’s all “Boy, this is some stupid stuff right here.”

So, during the seance, Donna has become hysterical. And she does what hysterical women do in the 70s, fall out. Concerned, her friends take her over to the couch as she muddles through the vapors. Count Yorga offers to help, but the fiance gets aggro with him. His friends chill him out and they allow the Count to come over and calm her down.

He does with hypnosis. While hypnotizing her, he gives her a subliminal message to come whenever he calls and to do whatever he says. Erica wakes up with no memory of what just happened, but thanks Count Yorga for his help.

From there, we start following the Count Dracula playbook: Step one, seduce the friend of the girl you like.

Donna’s friend, Erica (Lang) gets to talking to Count Yorba and offers to drive him home. The count gratefully accepts and she and her boyfriend Paul (Murphy) set about driving him this bus.

I just need to take a moment and admire the VW bus. When it first rolled on the screen, the Scooby Doo theme song popped into my head.

Okay, okay, so step two in the Count Dracula playbook: Seduce and/or creepily date rape the friend of the girl you like...the latter is what pretty much happens. Erica and Paul take Yorga home, on the way back they get stuck in the mud, so they decide to stay the night in the van. At some point Yorga shows up and attacks Paul, knocking him out, then jumps Erica.

Sometime later Erica goes to see a doctor friend, Jim (Perry) who looks at her bloodwork and the weird bites on her neck and says; “Yeah, that’s weird, but eat a bloody steak, you’ll be fine.”

Paul and Dr. Jim get together sometime after and talk about how weird Erica’s ailment is. When Paul tries to give her a call to check on her, she drops the phone. Freaked out, Paul and Dr. Jim rush to her apartment only to find that she’s taken Dr. Jim’s advice.

Yes. That is a kitten. (shudder)

So, Paul calls his friend Michael over, they give her a transfusion all 1992 Brom Stoker Dracula style. And in the meantime, Count Yorga is at home watching a live sex show between Donna’s dead mom (now a vampire) and another vampire woman. Sorry, everybody. They don’t show any actual sex between them. This was the 70’s, after all.

Back at the house, Dr. Jim tells his friends he suspects that Count Yorga is a vampire...seriously. Paul and Michael are like; “Okay, Doc, no more drinks for you.”

So, anyway, on to the next step in the Count Dracula playbook: Seduce and/or creepily date rape the friend of the girl you like, only this time make her into a real-life vampire while you’re doing it. This time, Yorga decides to go with the former technique. He seductively makes love to her and carries her away to his...castle....or whatever the equivalent is in Southern California.

Okay, Paul goes to check on his girl and see’s she’s gone. He’s convinced she’s with Yorga and decides to go to his house...alone. It doesn’t work out for him.

Michael freaks out because his boy is missing. Dr. Jim decides they all (Him, Michael, and Donna) need to go and confront Yorga...or rather, go to his house and just keep him talking until dawn. And maybe if one of them should go looking around, they might find Donna and Paul.

Yeah. That was the whole plan. It didn’t work. Around dawn, Yorga gets annoyed with them and kicks them out, but not before Jim throws a hint that he knows what he is. A less than smart move, but, moving on.

So, after that epic failure, Dr. Jim comes up with the plan to go to Count Yorba’s house in the afternoon and shove a wooden stake in his heart. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy. He tells Michael to get some sleep and set his alarm for two in the evening. Michael says: “Bet.”

Okay, so, they get some sleep and then we head right to the next step: Claim the girl you like. Donna is fast asleep next to Michael when Count Yorga calls her. She wakes up in a trance and turns off Michael’s alarm clock, then walks out of their apartment to be with Count Yorga.

Dr. Jim is startled awake by Michael’s phone call sometime later. “Oh, my GOD! We overslept!” They meet up at Michael’s house, breaks some chairs until they make stakes and crosses, then head off to Count Yorga’s house leading to the final step in the Count Dracula playbook: Defend your home from your new girl’s ex and whatever crazy vampire hunter type that’s on your case and then die because you’re evil….which is what happens, basically. Only, Yorga’s vampire brides get in on the action (Donna’s Mom, Erica, and nameless lesbian vampire) and pretty promptly murder Dr. Jim.

Poor Michael is left to fend for himself. He finds Donna, but not before he’s attacked by Count Yorga. Michael dispatches the evil count but finds himself stuck in the house with the remaining female vampires. He manages to fend them off only to overlook the fact that his beloved fiance has become one of the living dead.

So, like you might’ve guessed, I was ready to be into this one for the culture. But I have to admit, this bad 70’s vampire movie actually wasn’t bad. I liked it for all it’s Christopher Lee ripoff goodness. I even kind of liked Yorga and was almost rooting for him to outsmart and defeat the heroes.

Yeah, okay, so we’ll give it a jewel. Good-bad vampire movies should always be celebrated.

Next week...wellll, I’ll be a little busy next week. See, I’ll be doing the Juneteenth Books, Poetry and Art Fair on the 16th at the Northwest Activity Center in Detroit and I’ll be on my way to Texas next Sunday for the African American Book Festival.

Whhaaaattt? Did you say a bookfair event??? Yes. I did. And I have a new book coming out so head over to my site for details. If you happen to be in Texas or over at the Northwest Activity center, drop on in!

In the meantime, if I can, I’ll try and review The Conjuring 2...and I do mean try as I wasn’t a fan of the first movie in the first place. What? Yeah, I didn’t like it. So? Come at me, bro!

But not right now. Read my review first. Who knows, maybe I’ll like the second one.

-- O~

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Don't open the Cabinet!!!

Okay! So, old-school movie tiiiiiimmmmmeeee!!!!

This week’s movie is 1920’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It stars Werner Krauss, Conrad Viedt, Friedrich Feher, Lili Dagover and Hans Heinrich von Twardowski. 

First fun fact! This is a silent film! Gather around little ones. Let me tell you a little story.

Once upon a time, movies were made with no audio tracks. Yes. I know. That’s hard to imagine. But there was a point in time when movies were just visual mediums.

“But Ophelia! How did they talk if there was no audio?” Why, with title cards and gestures, of course!

Okay, okay, admittedly that does sound a little dull, but stay with me.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari begins with Francis (Feher), who’s sitting on a bench telling the story of how his dear fiancĂ©e, Jane(Dagover) lost her mind. The movie continues as a flashback of Francis’ story.

The story goes that in Francis’ hometown, a carnival came through town. With the carnival, there came a mysterious hypnotist known as Dr. Caligari(Krauss) with his somnambulist, Cesare(Viedt).

(Pause for a moment. I’ll save you the trip to Google. A somnambulist is a sleepwalker.) 

Okay, so Francis and his buddy Alan (Heinrich von Twardowski ) head to the carnival where Dr. Caligari is displaying Cesare to the crowd from a large cabinet (Cesare is in the cabinet, not Dr. Caligari). He wakes him up…eerily, and asks for a volunteer from the crowd so that Cesare and read some lucky person’s fortune. Alan volunteers and asks Cesare how long he’s going to live. Cesare tells him that he won’t make it to dawn.

And he doesn’t. A mysterious person comes in and stabs him to death making him the first in a series of victims. Francis works to find out who has murdered his friend and soon discovers that Dr. Caligari has hypnotized his somnambulist to go out into the night and murder people at random.

But wait! There’s a twist ending! Yes! An actual twist ending in a 98-year-old movie! I was just as shocked as you.

So, this is where a little film school knowledge comes in handy. Some fun facts:

1) The scenery was made entirely of paper! Which kind of makes sense. At the time, German Expressionist work was a thing, which is why the scenery has a sort of Edvard Munch kind of surreal feel to it.

2) The title cards are stylized to match the expressionist paintings of the time. Most reproductions don’t have those title cards. Luckily, the version I watched (available at the Ferndale Public Library) totally had those title cards. In English, of course.

3) The expressionist style of the set is indicative of a ‘dreamlike’ quality that the director was trying to convey with oddly shaped buildings and jagged edges in the distance and such, BUT some scenes were completely normal. There is much debate about why this is. One early critic noted that those scenes were a ‘fatal error’, but other critics noted that these scenes were still representative of the same dreamlike quality as not everything in dreams are…well…weird.

4) Posters advertised this movie with mysterious phrases such as "Du musst Caligari werden!", or "You must become Caligari!"

5) This film has been the subject of several urban legends. One of which was that the film had to be pulled from theatres because people demanded their money back.


6) When Cesare opens his eyes for the first time, it was reported that women in the audience of the premiere screamed and fainted (exactly the reaction I would hope for if I was premiering a horror movie.)

So, okay, this one gets the jewel not just for the culture, but because it’s the kind of movie that stands the test of time. It’s among the few nearly hundred-year-old movies that should be on your to-do list if you are a horror movie enthusiast.

So, next week is Count Yorba Vampire! The byline reads “Dashing, Dark and Deadly”. Yup. Here's hoping Count Yorba is all of that.

-- O~