Review: Spoorloos ("The Vanishing", 1988, George Sluizer)

A couple in love is on a vacation trip. When they stop and have a break from driving at some petrol station, the woman is kidnapped. Three years later, her boyfriend is receiving letters from the kidnapper, and goes on a frantic search for the truth...

Oh. My. God. "Spoorloos" aka "The Vanishing" is masterpiece of writing, and suspense.

It begins with some personal moments of a loving relationship, but there are some undertones - and soon the woman, Saskia, goes missing. What follows is a fascinating look at the psyche of her boyfriend, Rex, as he gets lost in search of inner peace, and the kidnapper, who proceeds with half naive, half devilish insanity. It all heads towards an unavoidable conclusion, but "Spoorloos" takes its time. Technically, it's a very simple production, but it drags you in with its intricate writing, editing, and camera work, the beautiful, mostly calm settings, and unobtrusive acting. While, slowly, the horror starts creeping in, as you begin to guess what might have happened, and what is yet to come...

As all the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall together, you realize the true quality of what you're seeing. "Spoorloos" is bright, precise, and just beautiful from the first scene, but when the end credits roll, it has become a brilliant, scary monster. There are mere seconds of physical violence in this film, there's no gore, no vampires, no undead, and nothing that really qualifies as special effect. But there's also no comic relief in it, and its self-awareness doesn't pour into the story. It's lighthearted when required, but nonetheless serious throughout, creating a mesmerizing, uneasy mood that only grows. Real horror is all in the mind.

"Spoorloos" is a very sad, very not-dumb, highly thought-provoking, and hair-raisingly scary low-budget movie, beautifully filmed and acted, that combines some Hitchcock-ian suspense with a dramatic build-up a la "Smilla's Sense of Snow" and the simplicity of "Man bites Dog" into an effective, shockingly realistic psycho thriller. 

Probably very disturbing for the average viewer, an absolute must-watch for fans of the genre, and a potential hidden gem for "true" horror geeks.

Verdict: Super scary... 9/10



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Review: Too Late the Hero (1970, Robert Aldrich)

It's World War II. A British army base on a Japanese island is the starting point for a special mission to capture and destroy a Japanese radio transmitter. Tensions and reconsiderations among the squad threaten the mission's success...

In this war action film production featuring Michael Caine and Cliff Robertson, we witness a half united, half torn apart group of characters entering combat with the enemy, the jungle, and themselves. As with many of these older war movies, the depiction might be a bit wooden or maybe naive in some regards, but overall "Too Late a Hero" is miles away from being dumb or flat. Quite the contrary. It's full of little and not so little sub-plots going on between the men, there's some wild action, it's gritty and gory at times, and touches on psychological horror. Henry Fonda makes a great appearance at the beginning of the movie, Caine and Robertson both play their roles with routine perfection, and all other performances are solid, too.

It is a thrilling action movie, and it does tackle some important subjects - like integrity versus responsibility, resilience and belief under pressure, nihilism of war - but we kind of don't really know what we're seeing here. Is it really an action movie, or more of an epic? Is it a psychological treatment? Or was it ultimately just about personal overcoming and heroism?

"Too Late the Hero" is a bit of a mixed bag - but it's entertaining, thrilling, and thought provoking, nonetheless. And, yeah, it's really gritty at times.

Verdict: Somehow unfocused, but still very well worth a watch. 6/10



Trailer video:


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Streaming Kino: The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1973) - Lee, Cushing, Coles

A secret service agent narrowly escapes the deadly rituals of worshiping the devil, and based on the evidence so far, Scotland Yard decides to consult occult expert Van Helsing...

"The Satanic Rites Of Dracula" is a later entry in the Hammer/Lee/Cushing series of Dracula films, and it might not come across as an overly "typical" episode, but it still looks absolutely Hammer, only with motorcycles and tape reels. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are in it, a couple of other familiar faces, and as all Hammer Draculas, it's a solid production in all regards. Chilling and entertaining, "The Satanic Rites..." can easily be recommended to all horror movie fans, and of course is a must see for everyone who likes vampires and the Hammer Dracula series. 


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Review: Dracula has risen from the Grave (1968, Freddie Francis)

The evil of Dracula has been destroyed. Or has it? With the help of a few drops of fresh blood, and a priest who has lost his faith, the prince of darkness returns...

Certainly one of the most spectacular adaptations of the material is "Dracula has risen from the Grave". It does some twists and turns to finally tie in with the universe created by the previous Hammer/Dracula/Lee productions, but it succeeds, and from there on it goes ever more boldly, and effectively, into an intricate story about Christian belief, atheism, and family. Of course it's a horror movie featuring Dracula, so the viewer can expect some adequate visual and aural stimulants - and this one doesn't hold back at all.

"Dracula has risen..." is loaded with erotic innuendo and not-so-innuendo, putting the underlying complex of sin-vs.-purity/family-vs.-rebellion/etc., that is present in all Dracula material, on full display, while being generous with the gore, creative and just as generous with psychedelic colors the likes of Mario Bava would be proud of, wasting zero time on fillers, and still devoting enough attention to some great dialogue that provides background and motivation to the characters. That's a lot of good stuff, and indeed the movie flows along nicely, without creating nostalgic "all-star", "all-Dracula" moments, but instead focusing on the action and the consequences.

Christopher Lee has comparably little screen time in the movie, and Peter Cushing is absent from the cast - creating a slightly unusual, unfamiliar mood. Some of the editing is razor sharp, Lee gives an exceptionally raw and wild performance, and the camera work is flawless to masterful. All of which makes the appearances of the lord of vampires even more menacing than they had already been previously. The producers of "Dracula has risen..." obviously had a vision of the pace, the visual quality, and the impact the movie should have, and they did not fail.

Verdict: Charming, sexy, fast, and genuinely scary! 8/10



Trailer video:


You can watch the movie at archive.org:


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Twilight of the Dead - a new George A. Romero zombie movie?

There might be a seventh George A. Romero "...of the Dead" movie!

Looking back at 2021, when Romero's previously almost unknown, near lost "The Amusement Park" got restored and released, it stirred up some talk about the director's legacy, and brought into light some of his unfinished ideas and plans:

'Now Suzanne Romero, widow of the filmmaker, is opening up about Twilight of the Dead and sharing her plans to take it to the screen. She has been developing the script with three screenwriters for the past few years and is ready to meet with directors on the project, which has this tantalizing logline: “The story is set in a decimated world. Life has all but disappeared. But there still may be hope for humanity.” [...] George A. Romero wrote a treatment for Twilight of the Dead with Paolo Zelati. After the director’s death, Zelati asked Suzanne Romero for permission to continue with the script. He brought on screenwriters Joe Knetter and Robert L. Lucas to help. [...] “It is no secret that Diary and Survival were not the way he envisioned the series ending, and George knew it very well,” notes Zelati. “Twilight of the Dead was his goodbye to the genre he created and wanted to go out with a powerful film.” [...] Suzanne Romero is now ready for meetings to find the right director to complete George A. Romero’s zombie saga. “This is the film he wanted to make. And while someone else will carry the torch as the director, it is very much a George A. Romero film,” says Suzanne Romero.'

Source: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-news/twilight-of-the-dead-george-a-romeros-final-zombie-movie-in-the-works-4175965/ (as of 2023-09-15)

It has been quiet for some time, but these days we're receiving (quite exciting) news that there's actual progress.

According to the news, Brad Anderson will direct the new movie, claiming it to be "...about social transformation, one that asks the question: What is it to be human?" 

That sounds a bit blunt, but it fits well into the Romero-ian film universe, exploring social interaction and what drives an individual, or holds one back.

"Twilight of the Dead" is said to be produced and financed by Roundtable Entertainment, and filming is planned to start this year.

Source: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-news/brad-anderson-direct-george-a-romero-twilight-of-the-dead-1235585266/ (as of 2023-09-15)

Wow, that's really good news - "Twilight of the Dead" is NOT vaporware!

Interestingly, the Internet Movie Database lists "Twilight of the Dead" among "Land of the Dead" (2005) working titles. This now makes obvious sense, but we can only speculate about the ideas George A. Romero originally had in mind for "Land of the Dead", and if he was able - or unable - to implement them.


Also note that "Paura nella citta dei morti viventi" (1980, Lucio Fulci, "City of the Living Dead", "The Gates of Hell") has a US pre-release title "Twilight of the Dead". Pictures of the movie poster can be found on the internet, but this movie is clearly unrelated to George A. Romero's "Twilight of the Dead".


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Review: Hercules in the Center of the Earth (1961, Mario Bava)

In order to cure his lover's insanity, Hercules goes on a mission into the underworld. There he must retrieve a magic stone, and face King Lico, who has teamed up with the dark forces...

"Hercules in the Center of the Earth" (or "...in the Haunted World") is fantasy horror movie with a lot of swords and sandals, and some comic relief. It's a bit of a mash up of Greek mythology, default fantasy material, and vampire horror. There are no actual vampires here, but some obvious references to that kind of movie culture, and with Christopher Lee as the main antagonist it has an extra bit of Hammer horror feel. There's not much character study to be found here. "Hercules in the..." is a low budget production depicting mythology - the dialog is a bit harsh, the humor is a bit wooden, as is the acting, the sets are cheap, and the muscles are shiny. 

To some, this may sound like "Hercules..." is a boring film, but unless you expect something very different, that is certainly not the case. With tons of styrofoam (or papier mache), paint, a handful of practical and camera effects, and loads of colored light, Mario Bava creates quite a spectacular picture of the underworld. His use of light is one of his trademarks - it's Technicolor on steroids, near-psychedelic, moody, and beautiful.

There are some bold shots of the scenery and architecture, Hercules meets some impressive adversaries, the women are (almost literally) goddesses - overall, "Hercules in the Center of the Earth" is very much a fantasy comic strip come alive, with a little bit of Dracula thrown in. It's cheap, but very bold, and for what it is, it works quite well. The story is of epic proportions, it moves forward steadily, has lots of action, some reasonably spooky horror elements, and great settings. What certainly stands out is the art direction: Decors, costumes, and most of all the fantastic use of light and color, together with some great cinematography, create a truckload of thick, dreamy atmosphere, the kind that can only be found in a Mario Bava movie. That's a lot of stuff to keep you captivated.

Verdict: Not too much substance, but highly watchable. 6/10


Trailer video:

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Review: Threads (1984, Mick Jackson)

"Threads", "The Day After", "The War Game"- these movies weren't some remote idea, or (just) a business decision. The Cold War had been on for decades, Russia and the USA had been racing to space, and competing for the biggest bomb ever, there was the Cuba crisis, SDI was a thing, Gorbachov, perestroika, and glasnost hadn't happened yet. Berlin was an island inside Russian territory. When "The Day After" was about to be shown in Germany some boulevard papers made it a frontpage headline. Chernobyl happened in 1986, and made people around the world remember the words Strontium, Caesium and Cadmium to their last day. That was the reality of the time. 

"Threads" is an educational movie, and it's made for exactly this purpose. In contrast to most other nuclear disaster movies, "Threads" puts its emphasis less on the short-term impact, but more on the personal catastrophe affecting every single one in the long term. Choosing a near-documentary style to do so, it quite soberly depicts the harrowing effects on human life as we know it. It could be me, you, anyone, it hits everywhere, and it will be passed on.

"Threads" is potentially the saddest and scariest film ever made. It's a British film, which means you'll be spared little. It goes a tad further and deeper than you might expect even from a film of that kind. "The Day After" ultimately tells a story, "The War Game" is a news report, "When The Wind Blows" speaks of love - "Threads" is most of all just brutally honest, as it puts pretty much nothing between you and the bitter, unrelenting truth. 

Overall, it's a very well made, extremely effective movie. The writing is intelligent and adequate to the subject matter, the editing and camera work is outstanding, the visuals range from accurate to genuinely shocking - it creates a scarily realistic picture of the unthinkable, and, much more than other such movies, its aftermath.

It is certainly no coincidence that around the time of "Threads" and "The Day After" worldwide anti-nuclear-weaponry demonstrations became massive (attendance up to 1 million), and nuclear disarmament started happening. People were really scared. The threat was all too real, and the insanity became undeniable.

Verdict: Watching "Threads" makes you a better human being. 10/10

Threads (1984)
Directed by Mick Jackson

Trailer video:


The War Game (1966)

World War III (1982) (NBC miniseries)

Testament (1983)

The Day After (1983)

On the 8th Day (1984)

Countdown To Looking Glass (1984)

When The Wind Blows (1986)

The Miracle Mile (1988)

Der Dritte Weltkrieg (1998)

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