Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Guardian of the Abyss (1980) (TV)

... aka: Hammer House of Horror: Guardian of the Abyss

Directed by:
Don Sharp

[Please feel free to skip this opening paragraph if you've already read it, as I've copied and pasted this little explanation before every episode in the Hammer House of Horror series.] *Even though I usually don't cover TV shows here, I've decided to include all thirteen episodes from the short-lived British TV series "Hammer House of Horror" on this blog. There are two reasons for this: 1.) Each of the thirteen episodes runs 52 minutes and is in essence a feature (short films technically clock in at less than 45 minutes). 2.) More importantly, in the mid-1980s all but one of the episodes was released in the United States separately as a feature on VHS by the ThrillerVideo label, which were further padded with commentary from horror hostess Elvira. Since these were very well distributed titles, and in keeping with the video-store feel of the blog, I felt it important to keep these in the database and review them all individually. The one and only episode that was not released by ThrillerVideo was "The Mark of Satan," which I'll review here eventually anyway just for completion's sake. The entire series is now available on DVD through A&E.* So moving right along...

Because her horoscope tells her to, antiques dealer Laura Stephens (Barbara Ewing) purchases a trunk of miscellaneous items. Inside is a silver mirror with all kinds of strange emblems carved into it. Well, strange if you don't recognize a Satanic star when you see one. Simon (Paul Darrow) attempts to buy the mirror off of Laura for a meager sum then increases his offer by ten times his original amount when she refuses it. Sensing the mirror might be more valuable than Simon is letting on, Laura instead gives it to her friend, antique exporter Michael (Ray Lonnen) to have it appraised. Meanwhile at a secluded mansion, Satanic ceremonies are taking place. One girl forced to look into a similar silver mirror sees a vision of a devil that disturbs her so much she beats her head against the wall. Cult leader Charles Randolph (John Carson), a master at magic and hypnosis, then selects another of his followers, Allison LaSarde (Rosalyn Landor), to be the next to gaze into the mirror. Allison freaks out and runs off into the woods. She makes it to the road and runs right out in front of a car being driven by Michael.

Seeing an attractive lady in peril, Michael offers his services to the young woman. When they arrive back at his place, she refuses to tell him what had happened, but makes mention of something called the Corinson (don't quote me on that spelling) Society and lets Michael know that his mirror is actually a spying glass (similar to a crystal ball) that belonged to a famous astrologer, alchemist and magician. Michael leaves the room for a second and in that time Allison runs off and has taken the spying glass with her. Laura wants him to call the police, but Michael refuses and senses that Allison needs his help so he sets out to find the secret society. Doing some research into them, he learns that Corinson is actually the "guardian of the abyss" or "the devil's doorkeeper." Several notables (including Aleistar Crowley) were rumored to have tried to summon the demon but with no success. That's what the Satanic sect, which hides under the guise of a historical society, is trying to accomplish.

Guardian is a middling and rather forgettable entry in the series; no big surprise considering director Sharp (who passed away last December) didn't quite light the world on fire with his genre output. His KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (1962) and RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK (1965) for Hammer, as well as non-studio work such as 1964's WITCHCRAFT, was merely adequate, nothing more. Like usual, it's well acted and the production values are fine, but there are some problems with the writing. I have a hard time believing that Michael, knowing what the spying glass will do if it gets into the wrong hands, would just leave it at Laura's shop and forget to tell her not to sell the damn thing! And the big "twist" right before the (predictable) finale pretty much just rips off THE WICKER MAN.


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