Dead Sea Scroll of Christopher Lee movies, part 1

Since my brain finally gave me a obsession to take my thoughts off the pandemic, I thought I might as well get some use out of it. So here are very short reviews for the first 20 new to me Christopher Lee movies I watched (60s-80s, lot of Hammer, including the Dracula ones I hadn’t seen).

There’s no real way to give a list here or make the titles clickable, sorry.

Just for fun, my ranking of the Dracula movies is:

  1. Horror of Dracula
  2. Scars of Dracula
  3. Dracula AD 1972
  4. Dracula, Prince of Darkness
  5. Dracula Has Risen From the Grave
  6. Taste the Blood of Dracula
  7. Satanic Rites of Dracula

It’s funny to me how everyone’s list is completely different, except that almost everyone has Horror of Dracula at the top.

Anyway, hope you enjoy movies about stupid people showing up at a creepy house where Christopher Lee also is!

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Het vijfde seizoen/La cinquième saison (Belgium, 2012)

I love folk horror, I love Belgian horror, and I love The Wicker Man, so when I came across this movie to do with all three, I just couldn’t resist buying it. On the whole, it’s interesting but kneecapped by the conventions of artistic European cinema and a lack of a clear message or theme, making it very mediocre.

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La frusta e il corpo (Italy/France, 1963)

I like a movie to be honest about what it is. Too often, something pretends to be a romance but it’s really about how women are stupid and worthless. Or it’s a comedy, but really it’s about how women are stupid and worthless.

So it’s always nice when you watch a movie that says it’s about Christopher Lee sexily whipping ladies, and it’s actually a movie about Christopher Lee sexily whipping ladies.

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The Final Programme (UK, 1973)

I had been looking for this movie since the Liz Eggleston post about it many years ago, and now I finally found it. It was very worth it, and her post about it is entirely right.

I would describe The Final Programme as a more skiffy Dr Phibes by someone who listened to Oh! You Pretty Things too many times. I don’t think it’s a good movie in the regular sense – normal reviewers seem to find it both baffling and dull, which it is-, but I also think it’s a good movie.

I think the thing about this movie is that it is going to be very interesting and meaningful if you are very into glam rock as a broader cultural movement, and if you’re not it’s just going to be really, really weird.

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Slapstick Festival 2021: A Pair of Silk Stockings (USA, 1918)

One of the only great things about the pandemic is that I can now digitally go to all the film festivals I can normally never go to, including the Slapstick Festival in the UK. A very accessible festival with a bunch of modern and non-silent stuff as well.

This movie took me completely by surprise. I picked it out of the schedule because of Constance Talmadge but it’s a good movie overall.

It’s a fun bedroom farce- or as Wikipedia primly puts it, “marital comedy”- with a bonus little kinky or transgender edge to it, which I truly was not expecting even though I know early film is like that.

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Best and worst of 2020

Here are my top five lists for best and worst films I watched for the first time in 2020! If there’s a review for a movie, it’s linked in the title.

Best:

  1. The wicker man (UK, 1973)

I’d avoided watching this for many years because I’d seen too many male writers describe the naked dancing scene as sexy (spoiler alert: it is not, in fact, sexy), but the Switchblade Sisters episode finally convinced me to watch it. I am so happy I did. It is so well made and original. Where else are you going to find a movie that can use its low budget to its advantage and revive a medieval European narrative tradition (martyr’s lives) at the same time?

2. Amrapali (India, 1966)

A perfect movie and I live in hope of one day seeing the full version. Everyone is beautiful and half-naked, I love the ship, all the songs are sung by a woman, the dancing is truly excellent, and after 54 years, it’s more feminist than any Indian movie from 2020 I watched.

3. Dragonwyck (USA, 1946)

Another perfect movie, insane and beautiful and campy but also genuinely creepy.

4. Malaal (India, 2019)

Almost a perfect movie, elevated from good to great by an amazing, amazing ending that sent it soaring up into the highest tier of camp.

5. The Wedding Guest (UK/USA, 2018)

A movie for when you want to watch Dev Patel be beautiful and trapped and doomed for an hour and a half. Also, a wonderful and complex performance from Radhika Apte.

Worst:

  1. Shimla Mirchi (India, 2020)

I could only stand 20 minutes of this, but it deserves its place here anyway. Lures you in with Rajkummar Rao/Hema Malini and a great opening number, but the actual movie is like being beaten over the head with a placard that reads WOMEN AREN’T REAL PEOPLE! WE WOULD NEVER TREAT AMITABH THIS WAY 🙂

2. Ginny weds Sunny (India, 2020)

I did finish this, basically because I could not believe it would not somehow redeem itself by the end (it didn’t). This one’s lure is a Vikrant Massey rom-com, but instead it’s the same effect as Shimla Mirchi, except Vikrant Massey also has bad hair.

3. Horror Express (UK/Spain, 1972)

Another trap, this time baited with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing sharing a bunk, and then they are basically never on screen at the same time again. However, Telly Savalas is in it for about ten hilarious minutes.

4. Aankhen (India, 1993)

Why is it like this? Why? (the answer is: David Dhawan)

5. The personal history of David Copperfield (UK/USA, 2019)

Another one I couldn’t finish. Cuts up the story in little 2 minute snippets where every character basically gets a cameo, nobody has enough lines to have character development or even an emotional arc, and the result is a bunch of actors trying to out-ham each other. David Copperfield is not even a character, he is just the straight man in a movie-length improv scene. This is what happens when you want to hire the maximum amount of big names, but don’t have the money to keep them in the movie for more than one scene and you don’t rein them in (see also: Cats, which was a more coherent movie). Shame about the fantastic costumes and the only acceptable version of Clara I’ve ever seen (book included).

Le giornate del cinema muto 2020: Ballettens Datter (DK, 1913)

Ballettens Datter is a star vehicle for Rita Sacchetto, a very important avant garde ballet dancer of the early 20th century.

As far as movies go, this is silly but very watchable, especially for a 1913 feature, and worth it for the excellent cinematography and for Rita Sacchetto. I wouldn’t call her the greatest actress, but she has an extremely compelling and charismatic screen presence, and it’s easy to imagine her holding a whole theatre spellbound.

Spoilers for a 107 year old movie.

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Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2020: Where Lights Are Low (USA, 1921)

This year Le Giornate del Cinema Muto is entirely digital, which is great because it means I can actually go! It’s super cheap, too.

On top of that it has a special gift for us nerds in the form of a new Sessue Hayakawa film.

The National Film Archive of Japan has restored this from a print in Belgrade. I can’t compare prints (obviously), but the restoration looked great. It was wonderfully scored by Philip Carli.

This movie is very silly, but I loved it.

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