Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Darkness at Blaisedon, A (1969)

... aka: Dead of Night: A Darkness at Blaisedon 

Directed by:
Lela Swift

Produced by Dan Curtis, this was intended to be the pilot episode for a supernatural-themed series titled Dead of Night. It runs just 52 minutes and was never actually aired on TV so the "series" both began and ended right here. It has much in common with Curtis' then-popular daytime soap Dark Shadows: it's set-bound, was shot cheaply on video, is mostly talk and features a relatively small cast. Not at all surprising since the director was Lela Swift, who had previously directed almost 600 (!) episodes of Shadows, and the writer was Sam Hall, who had written over 300. Mrs. Swift, perhaps the most prolific female television director of all time (she retired in 1989), also made a handful of other made-for-the-tube horrors such as Deadly Visitor (1973), The Gift of Terror (1973; which earned her a Daytime Emmy nod and was part of the ABC Afternoon Playbreak series), as well as the Wide World Mystery releases The Satan Murders (1974) and Alien Lover (1975). To my knowledge, none of those have seen the light of day since they aired on TV back in the 70s.

Angela Martin (Marj Dusay) inherits the dark, gloomy Blaisedon house from a dead aunt she's never met. Since she can't afford the upkeep on her secretary's salary, she's forced to try to sell it. The problem is that it's rumored to be haunted and no one wants to buy it. Being saddled with creepy, grumpy caretaker Seth Blakely (Thayer David), who informs her the home is "not fit for the living anymore," doesn't help matters. Angela seeks help from debonair Jonathan Fletcher (Kerwin Mathews), a former law student turned paranormal expert who became interested in all things supernatural after his dead father's ghost paid him a visit in college. Jonathan, along with his Indian assistant Sajid Raul (Cal Bellini), decide to take Angela back to the Blaisedon home to spend the night and see if there's any truth to those haunting rumors. Indeed there are. Almost immediately, all the hoary old haunted clichés (sudden gusts of wind blowing out candles, the organ playing all by itself, a "cold spot" upstairs where a violent act may have occurred years earlier...) start being trotted out.

Tracing back Angela's family history (using books conveniently located in the mansion's library), Jonathan determines that the malicious ghost responsible for the haunting belongs to its former owner: reclusive commodore Nicholas Blaise (Louis Edmonds). At the turn of the century, Nicholas murdered his brother because he believed he was having an affair with his wife, Melinda. Melinda responded by to that by hanging herself. Since Angela is a dead ringer for Melinda and may in fact be her reincarnation, Jonathan believes the restless commodore has lured her there in attempt to kill her and have her join him in the hereafter. There's a possession (when Angela slips on a cursed ruby ring that belonged to Melinda), a séance (where Angela speaks in Melinda's voice), some grave digging (when it's discovered that Melinda's body isn't in the casket) and a hidden, walled-in room that holds the key to the mystery.

After they survive the night in Blaisedon, Jonathan and Sajid offer Angela a job as a medium, and the trio would have no doubt gone on to investigate other paranormal cases if the series ever saw fruition. But it's kind of easy to see why that never happened. Though not badly made or acted for the medium, everything here seems overly-familiar and the whole project is ultimately forgettable (even by 1969 standards). Actor George Di Cenzo (who played prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi in the excellent Manson movie Helter Skelter) was an the assistant to the producer.

First released on VHS by MPI, it's now available as an extra on the Dark Sky release of Curtis' made-for-TV trio of terror tales DEAD OF NIGHT (1976), which has nothing to do with the proposed series Dead of Night.


Onna kyûketsuki (1959)

... aka: Lady Vampire, The
... aka: Vampire Man
... aka: Woman Vampire, The

Directed by:
Nobuo Nakagawa

Late for his girlfriend's birthday party, Tokyo Times reporter Tamio Oki (Keinosuke Wada) and his taxi driver are speeding through the streets when a woman walks out in front of their car. Thinking they've hit her, the two get out only to discover that there's no body. Once they arrive at their destination, Tamio gets another glimpse of the same woman hanging out in the garden, but she disappears again. He goes in, finds his girlfriend Itsuko (Junko Ikeuchi) a little upset at him (well, until he hands over a present) and everyone gets started dancing, singing and eating cake. That is, until a surprise visitor stops in unexpectedly. That visitor is Miwako (Yôko Mihara), who disappeared twenty years ago when Itsuko was just a baby. Needless to say, Itsuko's father / Miwako's husband, Shigekatso (Torahiko Nakamura) is shocked to see her again, and even more shocked that she looks identical to the young bride he'd married over two decades earlier. Seeing as how she hasn't aged a day, Shigekatso calls in a doctor friend to look her over. He's unable to come up with any explanation for it, but Miwako is weak, confused and suffers from partial amnesia. She needs her sleep.

While mum's resting, Tamio takes Itsuko to an art gallery and, low and behold, the two find that the award-winning painting is a nude portrait of Miwako. No one knows the first thing about the artist who painted it, but he goes by the name Shiro Sofue (Shigeru Amachi), and he's the dude always wearing shades in the daytime and accompanied by a dwarf sidekick he calls "Tiny." Shiro's real name is Nobutaka Takenaka and he's not quite human. OK, he's a centuries old vampire somehow connected to Miwako's bloodline, which is explained in a lengthy and confusing flashback. In a bizarre touch which injects werewolf mythos into the proceedings, the vampire is set off by the glow of the moon, which makes him uglier, fanged and clawed, and drives him into a murderous rampage. He kills a hotel maid and, when exposed in a nightclub, kills six different women. And you know how in most vampire movies the vampire casts no reflection? This film has scenes where the vampire is invisible and can ONLY be seen as a reflection in mirrors.

Naturally, Nobutaka / Shiro was the one to kidnap and entrance Miwako years earlier and now he wants his runaway bride back, even though she doesn't love him. After getting a slew of reporters and police officers on his tail for the murders, he finally manages to capture Miwako and retreats to his castle home. His castle is in the mountains hidden underground through a cave system and he shares company there with not only the dwarf but other ill-defined "monsters" such as a white-haired old witch and a bald strongman. The ladies in Nobutaka's life who've betrayed him over the years have been turned into statues that decorate the place.

Aside from its historical importance as one of the first Japanese vampire films and one of the earliest vampire films set in contemporary times, this boasts a very charismatic performance from Amachi. The film also has numerous impressive shots (with especially excellent use made of mirrors throughout the film), nice use of widescreen photography (with some breathtaking outdoor shots), very moody lighting and some striking minimalist set designs. Unfortunately, these pluses are all but thrown out the window by an awful final 20 minutes. Once Tamio, Itsuko and a slew of police invade the underground castle, the movie pretty much becomes an unintentionally hilarious disaster. For starters, the sets look incredibly cheap, with floors and walls wobbling throughout the action. Secondly, the fight choreography is terrible, with the vampire suddenly going all Errol Flynn with a fencing sword. The strongman's descent into a pool of bubbling water is done with all the finesse of Tor Johnson and watching the dwarf chase the screaming leading lady around all over the place is just plain comical.

Confused mythology doesn't help matters. I could care less about the fusion of vampire and werewolf tendencies for the villain, but little is explained. The link between his bloodline and the heroine's isn't adequately explained either (he does mention he likes the taste of their blood, but that doesn't count). Neither is how he became a vampire in the first place or who / what the dwarf, old woman and strongman are. Why does the moon turn him into a murderous beast throughout the film, but at the very end turn him into a white-haired corpse? There are lots of frustrating inconsistencies here. Too bad.

Nakagawa also made the impressive THE GHOST OF KASANE SWAMP (1957) and THE GHOST OF YOTSUYA (1959), as well as JIGOKU (1960), which many claim is the first gore film. Watch any of those and skip this one.


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