“ Genre: Horror / Theatrical Release: 1967 / Suitable for 15 years and over / Director: Samuel Gallu / Actors: Christopher Lee, Julian Glover, Lelia Goldoni, Jenny Till, Evelyn Laye ... / DVD released 2001-06-25 at Momentum Pictures / Features of the DVD: PAL, Widescreen „
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A review of the Momentum DVD, which is available for about £10 on amazon.
This is a British horror from 1967, set in Paris. Someone is murdering people and draining their blood. There's a theatre that specialises in gruesome horror plays (obviously modelled on The Grand Guignol), and the dark, obsessive director, Darvas, soon becomes the chief suspect in the murders. He develops a distinctly unhealthy interest in an ingénue actress, and as her friends try to free her from his clutches, the bodies pile up...
This isn't a particularly horrific horror film. There's only one even remotely gruesome scene, which is presumably what earns this a 15 certificate. The murders aren't seen in any detail, and the blood looks absurdly artificial. There are a couple of what seem to be sustained attempts at suspense, but they aren't very good. It's more of a murder mystery than a straight horror, but it doesn't do enough to make the murders themselves interesting.
The plot isn't too bad, though. It has a genuinely unexpected twist halfway through (although sadly the film becomes a lot less interesting afterwards). The various theatre bits are quite good, though the 'horrific' plays are obviously weak and certainly wouldn't attract the crowds in real life that they do in the film (the real Grand Guignol closed in the early 60s due to declining audiences). The second half of the film degenerates into cod-psychology and really, really unlikely plot developments. The decision to interrupt the supposedly exciting final chase with a burlesque dance sequence, while admirable in some ways, is a mistake in story terms. And I'm so fed up of fortune telling scenes in films like this - you know full well they're going to end with the 'death' card being drawn and the fortune teller being evasive about what it means.
Most of the characters do something suspicious at some point (including the audience identification figures) but the main focus of our suspicion throughout is Darvas, the Svengali-like director. (In fact he might as well have a big flashing sign over his head saying 'look everyone, I'm the villain!') Christopher Lee gives a more talkative version of his Dracula performance in the role. He's very good, obnoxious and intense, and doesn't just rely on his imposing presence and voice to carry him through. He seems to really enjoy being beastly to people; he has one of his best ever scenes in which he verbally lays into one of his actresses. (One of his lines when he's criticising his actors - 'About as frightening as an old woman stirring a cocktail cherry' - could apply to the film as a whole, but no matter.)
The other cast members are fairly generic. Julian Glover plays the hero, a police surgeon, and is too good an actor not to make something of the role, but it's obviously hard work. Lelia Goldoni is his girlfriend, and has an indefinably annoying accent. Rather better is Jenny Hill as the naive actress Darvas has his eye on. The only other actor in it I knew was Joseph Furst as a psychiatrist - sadly he doesn't go as over-the-top as he did when he played a mad scientist in Dr Who.
It's not doing much that's new - even the opening music sounds like a fusion of Hammer-style bombast and the swirlier stuff Les Baxter did for Roger Corman's Poe films. This is a well-made film, though. The director, Samuel Gallu, doesn't seem to have made much else, which is a pity. This is very nicely directed and looks really good. It's obviously not Paris (we never even see a tourist shot of the Eiffel Tower), and it's ridiculous that almost everyone has a very English accent, but Gallu has tried to make a mediocre story at least look good, and he's succeeded. The story is just about engaging enough to work by itself, at least until it starts to drag in the third act.
The DVD has no extras, but has good picture quality considering this isn't the best-known film on earth. I've seen this on TV a few times in recent years, which is probably a better bet than forking out what is too much money for the DVD. But this isn't a bad film, and is worth a look.