SJH’S FILM REVIEWS Part 1 A-G
A work-in-progress, Part 1 A-G:
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948)
Dir: Charles Barton
I kept reading rave reviews about how funny this was, so I gave it a go. It’s certainly of interest to show where horror cinema was at in the 1940s. The outright horror of the 20s and 30s had given way to comic send-ups like this, in which all the old favourite monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman) were reunited on screen once again. Boris Karloff flatly refused to reprise his monster role, but Bela Lugosi is clearly enjoying himself no end, complete with Dracula cape, and the adorable Lon Chaney Jnr plays it admirably straight as the tormented Wolfman. My problem personally is with Abbott and Costello, who I find only mildly amusing at best (I accept that opinion is probably not popular, particularly as this film made it into the Reader’s Digest Top 100 funniest films of all time!). Lou Costello is an affable little chap, but his constant cries of “Chick! Chick!” got on my nerves. There are some clever jokes though. Example: “I go mad at the full moon”. “You and 10 million other guys”. Worth seeing for Lugosi and Chaney, and for that splendid castle, which is everything a gothic castle in a film should be! (I sometimes wonder if Abbott and Costello open all film A-Zs).
THE ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES (1971)
Dir: Robert Fuest
I watched this one on YouTube, where you can download the whole film for free. It’s a gloriously OTT piece of early 1970s British campness, starring the incomparable Vincent Price. He is Dr Anton Phibes, an academic driven demented with grief by the death of his beautiful young wife, due to a botched hospital operation. Phibes is determined to be revenged on all the doctors involved, and he has some truly original ideas as to how to go about it. He bases each murder on the Seven Plagues Of Egypt, so we have death by frog, death by locusts, death by blood, death of the first born etc. The whole thing has strong echoes of its sister film, ‘Theatre Of Blood’, where Price played a ham actor getting revenge on every theatre critic who had ever slated his work, and does so turning to the works of Shakespeare for inspiration (poor old Arthur Lowe having his head cut off and stuck on a milk bottle still haunts me to this day!). Anyway, back to Phibes. The film begins with Price, seemingly clad from head-to-foot in black PVC, playing a pop-up organ in his sumptuous art-deco home. This kinda sets the scene for all the camp extravagance that is to follow. He is ably assisted in his dark deeds by his beautiful mute assistant, who has a habit of sawing away at a violin in the swirling fog. This film gets away with everything because not for one moment do we ever get the idea that anyone is taking this too seriously. It is wholly unpretentious, and yet the cast (full of old stalwarts, including the loveable Terry-Thomas, who plays a sort of reluctant blood donor I suppose you could say) all throw themselves into it with aplomb. There are some very gruesome moments – most particularly the death by locusts segment – and yet oddly we are all rooting for Phibes. He’s doing some terrible things, he’s completely barking mad, and yet he’s not doing it because he’s evil. When I watched this I found some of the YouTube comments quite touching (there’s something I don’t usually say!!), as everyone had sympathy for this grotesque character. I also detected in the film a slight dig at snobbery. There’s a scene where the police have got the hospital in total lockdown. Phibes sneaks in disguised as a hospital orderly, and even when he’s in the lift with the police inspector and his next victim, no one takes any notice of him. Ah Britain. TRIVIA CORNER: Keith Moon was watching this film the evening he died. Perhaps I should add his death had nothing to do with the film.
THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN (1957)
Dir: Val Guest
Enjoyable little Hammer thriller from the 1950s, in which Peter Cushing heads a team of scientists in the Himalayas. Based at a Buddhist monastery, Cushing has ideas to go and stalk the Yeti. It’s a surprisingly atmospheric number, although considering it was scripted by Nigel Kneale, perhaps not so surprising after all. The delightful Richard Wattis is also on hand. TRIVIA CORNER: the monks were largely played by waiters from London restaurants.
AFTER THE BALL (1897)
Dir: Georges Melies
The earliest example of cinematic soft porn, dating from 1897, and made by Georges Melies. Running at just over a minute long, the plot is acutely simple, even by the usual efforts of pornography. A voluptuous lady returns home from a ball, and her maid helps her to strip off all her clothes. The maid then gets her into the bath, and proceeds to pour a jug of coal dust over her. I must admit that bit baffled me. Was the maid being revolutionary? Was this early slapstick, and not erotica? No, according to YouTube Comments section (don’t say they never teach you anything), this was because water wouldn’t show up very well in early cinema, so they substituted sand or coal dust instead. Fascinating slice of What The Butler Saw-style naughtiness. Also interesting that the actress taking her clothes off makes no effort to be raunchy whatsoever, in fact she strips as briskly as if she’s going for a doctor’s examination.
Dir: Michael Apted
I have to say, in all honesty, that Vanessa Redgrave is not an actress I’ve ever warned to, and that’s not because of her political stuff. There’s just something about her screen appearances that I find vaguely annoying. That was very much the case when she played Mary Queen Of Scots, and yet here, as Dame Agatha Christie, she is actually adorable. I suspect playing a timid character, chronically lacking in confidence (when asked to give a speech at a book promotion, all she can mumble out is “thank you very much”), might have something to do with it, and yet she does seem to get under the skin of a woman who still seems quite an enigma, in spite of the massive popularity of her books. The film covers the ten days in December 1926 when Agatha Christie disappeared dramatically from public view, before finally being tracked down in a Harrogate hotel. Based on the book by Kathleen Tynan, it puts forward its own theory as to what happened to Agatha during those mysterious 10 days, and although the theory is frankly rather preposterous, it’s still an absorbing movie. Dustin Hoffman puts in a showy turn as a brash American journalist, who decides to track her down. He’s not really needed, and his constant wise-guy persona got on my nerves, I was far more interested in Agatha kicking up her heels at the posh hotel and finally having some fun! If you’re a fan of Dame Agatha, then the film is well worth watching.
THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (1993)
Dir: Martin Scorsese
I know some people rave about this film. For me, all I can say is … it’s alright I suppose. It’s certainly well-made, and the attention to period detail is first-class. If you want to wallow in Edwardian luxury then this is the film for you. There are some A-list actors on hand, but … heck, I’m running out of things to say about it. I guess I’m just not into people languidly pining for each other. For me, it just all feels too cold, too mannered, too utterly civilised, and vaguely disjointed.
THE AIRSHIP DESTROYER (1909)
Dir: Walter R Booth
Very early British sci-fi from 1909. Worth seeing as a slice of history, as it’s very much of it’s time, when paranoia about what the Germans may be building was growing apace. A bit like an Edwardian version of the Red Scare menace of the 1950s. It’s interesting that around this time we had the mysterious airship sightings in Britain, which makes me wonder if that was caused by the making of this film, or the film was inspired by it! Very much of its time, when inventors (still looking immaculate in their smart trousers and ties) knocked up big machines in their back gardens. Quite a lot of fun, and running at only a few minutes long you won’t exactly have time to get bored!
ALAN PARTRIDGE – ALPHA PAPA (2013)
Dir: Declan Lowney
As a die-hard fan of the legendary Mr Partridge I confess to having had misgivings about whether he would transfer to the big screen. What works splendidly for half-an-hour on the small screen, doesn’t always work for 90 minutes on the large one. But no need to worry, this is a very funny slapstick comedy, with the great Mr P on top form. Alan’s Norfolk radio station is facing a buy-out from a big corporation, and some of the old lags amongst the DJs are facing the axe as a result. Will it be Alan who has to go, or fellow ageing DJ, Irishman Pat Farrell? In true Partridge style Alan swings the boardroom vote by scrawling “JUST SACK PAT” on a flip-chart. Pat doesn’t take the news at all well. In fact, he decides to take the station hostage, and suddenly Alan is finding himself the hero of the hour as the police’s main hostage negotiator. The film licks along at a good pace, and the National Lampoon-ish style laughs are constantly coming. Some familiar old friends are here, such as Lynn, Alan’s long-suffering PA, and Michael, the Geordie doorkeeper. Colm Meaney (whom I mainly know as Chief O’Brien from ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’) is great as the tortured soul with the big gun. There are some great send-ups of the horrors of local radio: the excrutiatingly banal question-and-answer sessions, the cheesy music, the brainless breakfast show hosts. There is also an exciting finale on Cromer pier. What more can you ask? The Partridge phenomenon lives on.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1903)
Dirs: Cecil Pepworth, Percy Stow
One of the many things I’ve enjoyed about putting this film blog together, is tracking down very old films. The ones from the Edwardian era feel as if they’re giving us a brief window into a world that has vanished forever. Sometimes their strangeness can seem a bit too weird to modern eyes. I’ve seen more than one commenter on YouTube describe films like this as “creepy”. The characters can seem more like puppets that have come to life than human beings I suppose, and they can have a unsettling dreamlike feel. But they have a magic – and often a charm – all of their own. This was the very first adaptation of Alice to hit the big screen, and was a British film, made in 1903. It runs at just over 8 minutes long (absolutely EPIC for that era!), and neatly compresses Lewis Carroll’s entire story into that short running time. The White Rabbit at the beginning can feel like the stuff of nightmares, but the procession of playing cards at the end is charming. Interesting to think that the girl playing Alice would have been entirely at home in that Victorian girl’s outfit!
ALL ABOUT EVE (1950)
Dir: Joseph L Mankiewicz
One of the great legendary bitch-fests of 20th century cinema, and a must for any Bette Davis fan. I’d heard heaps about this film before I finally got to see it, and although it’s undoubtedly good, and Davis is good value as always, I didn’t really take to it as much as I’d hoped. It’s a very talky film. There are interminably long scenes, in which characters do nothing but out-gun each other with sophisticated repartee. Which is fine. If you like that sort of thing. I just feel it’s way too Knowing at times, as if the characters weren’t really involved, but standing outside looking in, and passing bitchy judgement. And Margo Channing’s (Davis) constant angst about getting older gets really REALLY wearying after a time. “I’m 40! Forty!” she wails at one point. Oh get over it, love. Been there done that. Move on. Where I found it interesting was in the character of the sadistic Addison de Witt. When he finally gets together with Eve, it is like a coming-together of two psychopaths. “You laugh at THEM, you don’t laugh at me! NEVER laugh at me!” “We’re not capable of love, or being loved”. The film takes a very dark turn at this point, and is all the better for it. I just wish we could have got to it sooner, and cut out some of the sparkling Noel Coward-type stuff that went before. I would also like to add that I enjoyed the scene where Margo tells her best friend she’s getting married. This is all handled in a very mature, grown-up way. These days the women would have to go all scream-y and girly, and clap their hands and shout “squee!” and things like that. Nice to see a time when grown women acted like grown women.
ALTERNATIVE 3 (1977)
Dir: Christopher Miles
I remember well the impact this hour-long film had when it was shown on TV in 1977. Although done as a hoax, it felt so real that I recall everyone talking about it in shocked tones the next day. The TV show ‘Science Report’ decided to make a hoax film and air it on the evening of April Fool’s Day. Unfortunately a strike by technical crew meant the show got delayed, and it wasn’t aired until a couple of months later, which somewhat makes the April Fools prank idea get lost in translation. Since then the plot of the film has emerged in numerous conspiracy theories. The idea is thus: the governments of the world secretly know that our days on Planet Earth are numbered, and are working to save a select few and transport them to safety on Mars. Put in the raw like that, the plot sounds rather silly, but the completely straight-faced playing of it, made it highly effective. Viewing it now, all these years on, it seems even more plausible. We now distrust governments so completely, and are constantly suspecting them of being up to dubious things we know nothing about, that we could easily believe them capable of anything. (Although the idea that they could be quite so organised is probably the most far-fetched idea of the lot). Some of the ideas in the story though do seem to have become all too real. The references to the climate changing now gives an unwelcome frisson. In one scene our host on the show goes to Cambridge University to interview a prominent German scientist. It is a hot day, and there are cicadas in the background. The scientist remarks that he never thought to hear them in Britain. Eek. Also the part where they track down one of the US astronauts, and now find him to be a flabby drunk who is clearly battling his own demons, must have spawned enough Lunar conspiracy theories. You can easily find this film on YouTube, and if you’re interested in hoax TV, conspiracy theories, or simply want a well-made drama, then it’s well worth tracking down.
AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000)
Dir: Mary Harron
I remember this film had a somewhat negative reaction when it was first released*, and yet y’know, it’s pretty darn good. Based on Bret Easton Ellis’s cult novel, the film revolves around Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a sociopathic banker, who lives a vain, shallow life in New York yuppiedom. It is a life so obsessed with competition and triviality, that the sight of someone else’s superior business card can send you into a frenzy. From what I can gather Bale wasn’t the first choice for the lead role, and yet it’s hard to imagine anyone else in it. In the scene where he hires two prostitutes and then lectures them about a Genesis album, I can’t help feeling you get the gist of Bateman’s life. The man is so boring and self-obsessed, that he has to hire women to listen to him chuntering on about nothing whatsoever! *It seemed to confuse people as to what it was. It has moments of pure horror, and yet enough comedy to be a biting satire.
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)
Dir: John Landis
David Naughton and Griffin Dunne play two likeable American backpackers (blimey, those are words you don’t see too often) having a perfectly dismal time of it on the Yorkshire moors. They seek refreshment at Ye Olde Hostelry of ‘The Slaughtered Lamb’, a tavern which I doubt will be making its way into the ‘Good Pub Guide’ any time soon. There they find there’s no food available, and they have to put with gobby Brian Glover and his mates. Just before leaving they are warned to stay away from the moors. Naturally, this advice is not heeded, and soon we hear the ominous howl of a wolf. Left the sole survivor of a wolf attack, David wakes up in a London hospital, to learn that his best chum is dead. Even the angelic ministrations of nurse Jenny Agutter can’t calm David’s nerves as he is prone to nightmares where he is running naked through a forest and attacking the wildlife, and then he starts to get visitations from his dead pal. Done with huge panache, energy and a lot of fun, American Werewolf really is a treat to see. As far as I remember it single-handedly reignited the werewolf genre, which had been dead for some time. The man-into-wolf transformation scene – all done to the tune of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising – is still hugely impressive over 30 years on. David Naughton is a very likeable hero. He’s funny, a bit goofy, and we feel for him in his fear and confusion. Jenny Agutter is a bit TOO perfect as his love interest, in fact at times she’s so saintly she’s downright annoying, (anyway, since when was a bedtime reading service available on the NHS?), but she is the perfect English rose in many ways, and that’s what she’s being asked to play here. The final sequence of the big smash-up in Piccadilly Circus is an excitingly apt finale. There are also fascinating little snippets of early 1980s London life here. The complaints about the huge prices in the supermarket (the days of 22% inflation!), a London bobby still happy to pose for photographs with tourists, and the TV advert where some slapper is advertising her tell-all memoirs in the News Of The World (that happened every week from what I remember). Look out for the congratulations message to Charles and Diana right at the end of the closing credits. Suddenly 1981 looks like the days of innocence and bliss! (It wasn’t really).
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (2005)
Dir: Andrew Douglas
As if the first version wasn’t tedious enough, we now get an even more boring remake. I’m astonished sometimes how successful the Amityville bandwagon has been. The original book had it’s share of chills when it first came out, largely because I suspect we didn’t know what to make of it, and it came buried under a pile of hype. But since then … well people work hard to keep it all going, I’ll give them that. So anyway, just in case, (by some miracle), you didn’t know the story, Ronald de Feo shoots dead his entire family as they sleep one night. And then, because nobody wants to live in the house of doom, it’s going cheap, and the Lutz family move in, only to find it’s haunted (or they hit upon the brilliant idea of faking a haunting, whichever side of the fence you’re on). This film was so dull that a short way into it, I actually started doing some work instead!
ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY (2004)
Dir: Adam McKay
There is an innocence to this film which I find hard to resist. Will Ferrell plays Ron Burgundy, a 1970s newsreader who is about to have his happy little world shattered when – shock! horror! – a WOMAN is assigned to his cheerfully misogynistic little team. In many ways Ron is like an American version of Alan Partridge. He comes out with lines like “I am important! I have an apartment filled with leatherbound books and an aroma of rich mahogany”. And yet for all his pompous buffoonery, he is quite loveable, and clearly loves his work. If you are looking for a sharp, biting satire about news channels this isn’t really the place to come. It’s a cartoon film, with a shamelessly childish air about it. At times it has a crazily surreal, Monty Python feel, such as the scene where all the newsreaders have a Gladiator-style showdown, and the final scene in the bear-pit at the zoo. The gang also have a go at singing ‘Afternoon Delight’, one of my very favourite songs ever. Seriously. I love comedy which has it’s heart in the right place, and such is the case here.
AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS! (1973)
Dir: Roy Ward Baker
One of the things I love about the Internet is the way that some old films, which flopped on release, and were mauled by critics, are discovered by a fresh audience. ‘And Now The Screaming Starts’ was released by Amicus in 1973, and was effectively savaged for years afterwards. And yet when viewed now it’s really quite an absorbing little piece of gothic horror. Ian Ogilvy and Stephanie Beacham play 18th century newly-weds, who return to the husband’s ancestral pile to set up home. Unfortunately Stephanie finds herself being haunted by a disembodied hand (straight out of ‘The Beast With Five Fingers’), and some dubious old ancestor who likes to put in grotesque appearances in the family portraits. I’ve read much criticism of Steph’s acting, but she does a good solid job of what’s required of her, which is to look beautiful in period costume (particularly that riding-habit she dons for a walk in the woods!), appear suitably anguished at chosen moments, and also give quite possibly one of the longest screams in cinema history. Rosalie Crutchley also appears in one of her Sinister Housekeeper roles (see ‘The Haunting’ below). Finding this again on YouTube I was pleasantly surprised how much people were enjoying it, which suggests that elegant low-key gothic horror has much more of a fan-base now than it did in the oh-we-must-be-so-cool-and-modern early 1970s, I’m glad to say. The only real criticism I have is that we have to wait a perishing long time (nearly 50 minutes) for Peter Cushing to appear.
AND SOON THE DARKNESS (1970)
Dir: Robert Fuest
Or as one Amazon reviewer put it “oh those hotpants!” Yes, if you like the sight of two nubile young women wearing very tight shorts to go cycling, then this is the film for you. Actually it’s also a very passable Brit thriller from the early 1970s. Pamela Franklin and Michele Dotrich (yes, Frank Spencer’s wife, Betty) are two nurses on a cycling holiday in France. Little do they know it but the long country road they are bickering along has been the scene of some unsolved murders. It reminds me a bit of those old ‘Thriller’ TV plays from around the same time, and has some fairly eerie moments. Someone has pointed out that the film shows the differences between now and then, in that in those days (20 years before the Channel Tunnel) France was still very much a foreign country. These days I suspect the girls wouldn’t be able to cycle far without being nearly run down by British and German families in campervans! There is one scene though which never fails to exasperate me every time I see it. Michele Dotrich decides to do some sunbathing in a remote spot, but first of all festoons all the bushes with her underwear. I know she’s drying her washing, but even so, I do get a bit huffy with that naive bit of recklessness! Pamela though makes up for it in the intelligence and resourcefulness department. When I think what a Hollywood remake would be like … actually no I don’t want to think about that. ADDENDUM: yes, there has been a US remake (in 2010), with the girls now holidaying in Argentina. One critic’s waspish comment was that cinema must be in a truly bad way if it’s reduced to remaking films like this. Feel this is a bit of an unfair slur on the original, which isn’t bad at all, but at the same time I can see his point.
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1945)
Dir: Renee Clair
A real pleasure to find this little gem on YouTube. To the best of my knowledge there have been at least 4 versions of Agatha Christie’s macabre book, about the systematic deaths of 10 people on a Devon island, and this, the first, is undoubtedly the best. Made in 1945, it sticks reasonably closely to the original book, although the ending has been altered, as I suspect it would simply have been too downbeat and horrific for the time. I think the reason this works where the others failed is simple … it uses the location in the book, a small island off the English coast. The others by contrast went overboard with trying to create the most exotic, bizarre locations they could. So we have ‘Ten Little Indians’ from the 1960s set at the top of a Swiss mountain (see further down the list), the 1970s version set in a big hotel in the Iranian desert (with a frankly boring and tedious big-budget cast), and the 1980s version (which I’ve never seen) set on an African safari. This film clearly shows you need to take the story back to its roots to make it work, and chuck out all the exotic gimmickry of the remakes. Shot in atmospheric black-and-white, the house on the island is well-utilised. There are some great touches, such as the opening where we see the characters arriving by boat, and are wordlessly shown each of them in turn. When they get to the house and introduce themselves, they do so directly to camera. There are times it feels more like a dark farce, as the dwindling cast huddle in any rooms that don’t have corpses in them, and complain about the servants being bumped off! If anyone ever decides to do another remake of this, I hope they too go back to the original book, and film it at Burgh Island, off the Devonshire coast.
Dir: Francois Ozon
I was very pleasantly surprised by this film. It’s always difficult to come to a movie adaptation of a favourite book (in this case ‘Angel’ by Elizabeth Taylor). Our expectations are rarely met in reality. This sticks closely to the original story (which is always a bonus), and Romola Garai is spot-on as Angel Deverell, the flamboyant, eccentric romantic novelist. I get the impression the film didn’t do well on release, and although it came out a few years ago I only came across it in recent times. If the cover of my DVD is anything to go by, I suspect it was marketed wrong. The cover shows a young couple having a romantic kiss in the rain, the woman gorgeously gowned. This might have led some viewers to expect a classic romantic movie in period costume. The trouble is it’s not. There is romance in it, but the whole point of the story is that romance in real life cannot measure up to Angel’s fictional expectations of it. It’s a very sad story, and Angel’s idiosyncratic personality might not gel that well with some viewers. It does help if you loved the original book. Angel starts off as a clumsy, blunt-speaking schoolgirl, who achieves fame and fortune through her pen, (Sam Neill is great as her publisher), but winds up as a dotty, reclusive old lady. I would take this film over the ponderous ‘Age Of Innocence’ any day, but I appreciate that it might leave some people baffled by the whole thing.
ANGELS AND DEMONS (2009)
Dir: Ron Howard
Dan Brown. The Illuminati. The Vatican. Tom Hanks. An awful lot of rushing about. Characters give lots of tedious explanations in place of real dialogue. I watched an hour of this. Then went away to watch ‘Downton Abbey’, when I came back it was still going on. A very long film.
ANGELS AND INSECTS (1995)
Dir: Philip Haas
Very odd and quite unpleasant costume drama. The only saving grace of which is the excellent Mark Rylance, who plays a naturalist, William, returning to Britain after working in Africa. He falls for a strange aristocratic young lady called Eugenia (Patsy Kensit). They marry and produce a raft of children. Anyway, to cut a long story short, William finds out that Eugenia has been committing incest with her awful superior brother (Douglas Henshall) all along. The “insects” of the title are spelt out in a word game as “incest”, just to prod William a long a bit. A cold and unsavoury film, which won a trio of awards when it was released in 1995, but is very rarely seen now. I think the only time I’ve been aware of it on television was once in the middle of the night. I watched it on a rented VHS tape quite some while back.
THE ANGRY RED PLANET (1959)
Dir: Ib Melchior
I was hampered a bit with this one, as I watched a ropey Internet copy, which jerked all over the place, and was interrupted by adverts every 5 minutes. This would be a serious problem even with a quality film, but with a cheap 1959 cult film, it practically kills it. The story is quite good. A manned spacecraft returning to Earth from Mars has only 2 survivors aboard, one of which seems to have brought a souvenir back from the Red Planet. It’s a bit reminiscent of the first ‘Quatermass’ film.
ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS (1969)
Dir: Charles Jarrott
Any actor wanting to play King Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn might be advised to study Richard Burton and Genevieve Bujold’s performances here. Bujold to me is the definitive Anne. It’s one of those performances where the historical character really does seem to come alive. With her flashing dark eyes, and soft French accent she knocks all over contenders into a cocked hat. Burton had some criticism for his role as Henry, with some accusing him of doing nothing more than bellowing. This isn’t true. He also plays Henry as sentimental and vulnerable beneath all the tantrum-throwing and bluster. Plus he looks damn sexy in a fur-lined dressing-gown, but that’s another matter. (In his diary Burton recorded that he thought Henry was mad, that he seemed demonic). Burton had the hots for Bujold in real life, which won’t exactly come as any great surprise, and Bujold had to put up with Burton’s wife Elizabeth Taylor, hovering jealously on set. “I’ll give that bitch an acting lesson she won’t forget!” Bujold is reported to have said. Well she certainly did! The other actors all do a fine job too. Anthony Quayle gives a many-faceted turn as Cardinal Wolsey. One moment all powerful, the next frail old man. Michael Hordern portrays Anne’s father as a greedy, ambitious man, but ultimately weak and hopelessly out of his depth in the high-octane dealings of the Tudor court. Irene Papas looks permanently moist-eyed and sad as the forlorn Queen Katherine. There are some great lines too, “I am accursed!” My favourite is the scene where Wolsey is in bed, and is told that the Duke of Norfolk is paying him an unwanted late-night visit. “The Devil take him!” he mutters. I’ve often muttered that one myself when dealing with unwanted callers.
APOLLO 18 (2011)
Dir: Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego
Since ‘The Blair Witch Project’ there has been a whole raft of what the critics call “found footage” films. You know the sort of thing – someone claims to have found secret documentary film footage showing some dark, horrible mystery, which usually involved the deaths of all concerned. Classic urban myth stuff. Naturally, they have all varied in quality. ‘Apollo 18’ is a bit of a mixed-bag. It takes up some of the conspiracy theories involving the Moon, but unlike ‘Capricorn One’, this isn’t a case of We Never Went There, more We Went There And Something Awful Happened So We’ve Never Been Back. I wasn’t impressed with the first part of it. It was dark and confusing, and I couldn’t get a handle on the lead characters. They seemed to be a handful of anonymous men in space. I think this is a bad mistake, frankly. You need characters you can care about, or at least can tell apart from one another! There is some scene-setting, involving the difficulties of living in space, all cramped together in a tin-can, but this was done better in ‘Alien’. The film improves in the second half, when spooky, terrifying things start happening on the Moon’s surface. This is classic haunted house stuff, albeit haunted house in space. If you’re overly-familiar with conspiracy theories, there might be a touch of same-old same-old about it all, but it’s still quite eerie in parts.
ARABIAN NIGHTS (1974)
Dir: Pier Paolo Pasolini
I watched this on a ropey old VHS tape, which didn’t really do the film justice, but on the whole this Italian-made effort is worth a look. There are enough shots of nubile young Italians locked in passionate clinches in shaded rooms, tents and bath-tubs to keep us engrossed. From what I remember the demon is a bit of a letdown when he appears, but he’s alright. The most stunning part though was the young man donning his ragged priest’s vestments for the first time as bells ring out in the town all around him. There are no Ray Harryhausen monsters in it though. Oh well.
AS ABOVE SO BELOW (2014)
Dir: John Erick Dowdle
I’m quite fascinated by the Paris Catacombs, so I was intrigued by this film, although I had a feeling in advance that I shouldn’t get my hopes too high. It’s a “found footage” film, which is a concept which seems to have been done to death in recent years. Cue lots of wobbly camera-work, and hysterical kids no doubt. But this did have Paris as a setting, so I thought it was worth a go. Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) is a young academic, who is hellbent (no pun intended) on finishing her father’s work of finding the Philosopher’s Stone, which is buried far beneath the ground. As soon as the Philosopher’s Stone was mentioned, I felt a pang of disappointment. Oh no, not that old chestnut again. And yes, here we are, roaming (or in my case, being dragged kicking and screaming) into Dan Brown territory. We get to look round old churches, whilst Scarlett earnestly gets carried away uncovering old inscriptions on stone slabs. She has around her the usual gang of snotty know-it-all youngsters, or ones who can’t stop goofing about. They all come to the conclusion that hey, it’s just so convenient them being in Paris, because … ta da! … they can look for the Philosopher’s Stone in the Catacombs. (Oh very Scooby Doo). She meets a man in a nightclub who can get her into the Catacombs after hours, and so down they go. From then on, it becomes like ‘Most Haunted’ but without the constant night-vision cameras, and Scarlett (game girl that she is) at least doesn’t keep screaming like Yvette. I didn’t find it interesting, tense or scary. Although Perdita Weeks is excellent as Scarlett, and does a good job of being a young female lead that isn’t a complete embarrassment to our sex, I didn’t care about any of the other characters at all, and all the stuff about eternal lights etc just tried my patience. It was a great idea, but the execution of it was way-off for me.
Dir: Roy Ward Baker
Absorbing Brit horror anthology film from 1972. It begins stirringly enough with dishy Robert Powell driving up to a spooky house, with Mussorgsky’s ‘Night On Bald Mountain’ as the soundtrack. He is Dr Martin, and he has come to take over at a private lunatic asylum. He is greeted by a wheelchair-bound Patrick Magee, who informs him that his predecessor is now one of the patients, and it is up to Dr Martin to figure out which one it is. Dr M is taken to what is presumably the high-security wing, and is introduced to four patients, who each tell him why they are here. The best story for me is the second one, where Peter Cushing plays a sinister cove who asks a poverty-stricken tailor to make him a suit out of a strange luminous material. Mussorgsky’s music is used particularly effectively here. The most famous part of the film is the final story involving some killer dolls, although to be honest the dolls seem too small, stiff and clumsy to be really effective. I like these 1970s anthology films, and I think we should go back to making them. Each story is probably about as long as my Twitter-wrecked attention-span can cope with in one go these days!
AT THE EARTH’S CORE (1976)
Dir: Kevin Connor
Peter Cushing and Doug McClure venture to the Earth’s core and fight prehistoric monsters, who are all very noisy. We get lots of close-ups of a big reptile’s eye, and Caroline Munro doing a Raquel Welch-style turn in a skimpy costume. The film does seem to have it’s admirers, and even though I normally like this sort of thing, it’s not very good. I don’t want to knock it though, it has it’s place in the world of entertainment.
AUTUMN CROCUS (1934)
Dir: Basil Dean
For a few years in the 1930s, Dodie Smith – author of ‘I Capture The Castle’ and ‘101 Dalmatians’ – had been a top West End playwright. ‘Autumn Crocus’ was her first hit. It tells the story of Jenny, a sweet, shy schoolteacher, who finds forbidden romance with an inn-keeper whilst on holiday in the Austrian Tyrol. From what I remember reading in Dodie’s autobiography, ‘Look Back With Astonishment’, the filming of Crocus was troubled, and the end result wasn’t really worth the effort. It’s more famous nowadays for being Ivor Novello’s last film. He’s dashing, quirky and endearing, although having to stride around in lederhosen doesn’t really do him any favours in the sex god stakes! Fay Compton (who had played the role of the school-teacher on stage) makes a charming lead, but, this is a Basil Dean production, and as such it’s way too talky, unable to shake off its stage-y origins. Also the running joke of the couple who are living in sin, and can’t stop telling everyone about it, feels laborious.
THE AVIATOR (2004)
Dir: Martin Scorsese
Always a pleasure to see Leonardo di Caprio in a role worthy of his talents. Here he is excellent as Howard Hughes, one of the most eccentric American men of the 20th century. I remember when Hughes died, and everybody being shocked by the pictures of this brilliant, handsome man being reduced to a skeletal, bearded recluse. Di Caprio is good at conveying his chronic OCD behaviour, but also at showing us a man who wasn’t all rich-boy-flash-git, who had a strong centre to him. Cate Blanchett really makes the film too as one of his many movie star mistresses, Katherine Hepburn. When I first watched it, I thought that she was over-arch and too in-your-face, but that was me being a dope, as the real Kate was probably like that! Certainly her voice, about as relaxing as a chainsaw, was an acquired taste. There is an absolute beautiful piece of movie-making in this film, the scene where Howard lets Kate pilot his plane, and he watches her beautiful profile as she does so, all to the soft jazz melody of ‘Moonglow’. Hughes also became obsessed with Jane Russell’s breasts, even designing a special bra for her. He wanted to make her a star, (which he did), only to have some studio bod say “Howard, no one’s gonna want you to make an entire film about tits!”
One hour TV drama, scripted by Nigel Kneale (part of his ‘Beasts’ season), which I remember absolutely terrifying me when I first saw it many years ago in the 1970s. A young couple, expecting their first baby, move into a country cottage and begin renovating it. Buried inside a wall they find a large jar, in which is a strange little mummified corpse. From then on they are plagued by weird spooky occurrences. Watching this again on dvd I still found it an eerie experience, and the ending actually made me jump out of my skin, even though I must have seen it before. Film and TV buff Mark Gatiss once described it as “the most disgusting” thing he’d ever seen on television. Still very effective after all these years.
THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953)
Dir: Eugene Lourie
When you see films like this it’s easy to see why old monster b-movies are so much-loved. This is fun. It has a great story (based on a short story by Ray Bradbury), it has a monster, it has a lighthouse, and at just over an hour long, it’s my kind of length too. Atomic blasts in the Arctic have broken out a dinosaur, which has been trapped for millions of years in ice. The poor little thing … sorry the fearsome beast heads off in a leisurely fashion towards New York, taking time out along the way to demolish a lighthouse in the north Atlantic. Once in New York, it stamps on the odd car, gobbles up the odd policeman (serves him right), and breaks through the odd skyscraper, before it is finally trapped amongst the big dippers at Coney Island. The only problem is that the Beast is more cute than terrifying! Nevertheless, a monster movie as a monster movie should be.
Dir: E Elias Merhige
I had to psyche myself up for ages to watch this one. Its reputation had well-preceded it as one of the weirdest, most uncomfortable films ever made. I had seen clips where a forbidding voice-over went on about something sorta Biblical, and we had eerie black-and-white shots of people rolling around on the ground. It seemed intriguing enough to warrant extra viewing, but I could never bring myself to do so, and this is from someone who sat through ‘Salo’, twice, so I’m not usually overly-squeamish. Anyway, one hot afternoon recently, I downloaded the entire film on YouTube, and braced myself for a disturbing hour-or-so of viewing … and was left feeling “meh!” The only thing that genuinely concerns me about this film is the idea that if I criticise it in any way I’ll get trolled by its ardent supporters, all telling me what a stupid numbskull I am, and how I should stick to watching Carry On films. In which case they’d probably be right. Weirdness I can live with. Controversy I can live with. Cinema – like any art form – should occasionally push boundaries. And new ideas are there to be seized and made use of. BUT boredom is something that always defeats me. And by golly, this film is tedious! The plot (which someone has kindly posted in YouTube comments, and is quite useful in understanding the film) concerns God, who decides to disembowel Himself using a rusty razor. I’m not entirely sure why, but presumably he’d had enough of Mankind and their endearing little ways. This I can understand, but you’d think God would find an easier way to end it all, quite frankly. God is represented by a grotesque figure sitting on some kind of veranda. He appears to be wearing a mask and a long robe. The “suicide” (well I’m presuming that’s what it is) seems to take bloody forever. When you first see this image it IS disturbing, but after a while you get sort of acclimatised to it, and you think “OK movie, let’s move it along a bit shall we?” Eventually a woman (wearing the kind of gypsy skirt that was all the rage when I was a teenager for disco-dancing in), emerges from underneath God’s chair, and decides to impregnate herself using his dying semen. Classy. If you are devoutly religious, then this film will be upsetting and highly controversial, and you probably should stay clear of it. If you are a fan of extreme cinema, then it’s a must, but even running at a little over an hour long, I found it’s glacial pace almost insufferable. It seems entirely wrapped up in its own pomposity. And much as the themes in it are controversial, at the same time they feel strangely tired. Made in the early 1990s, the film feels like a throwback to the 1960s (all that God Is Dead stuff from that era), or the more avant-garde movies of the Silent Era. Weirdly, I found the random clips of it I’d seen prior to the viewing far more disturbing. When I came to watch it in its entirety the shock factor had gone, and I was just left with a cheaply-made film which felt like something some 60s hippy students had thrown together for an art class.
THE BELLES OF ST TRINIANS (1954)
Dir: Frank Launder
Very first outing for the little horrors from the girls school from Hell. Joyce Grenfell, as Sergeant Ruby Gates, has to go undercover as games mistress to expose a race-horsing racket. It’s all knockabout (literally) fun, and Alastair Sim plays one of my favourite comic creations, that of Miss Millicent Fritton, the school’s headmistress. Richard Wattis is also very funny as the longsuffering Man from the Ministry. Interesting that the staff-room with it’s full qota of eccentric teachers isn’t that much more exaggerated from what I remember of my own school-days … except it’s nowhere near smoky enough.
Dir: Dee Rees
Excellent biopic of legendary jazz singer Bessie Smith, who hit fame and fortune in the 1920s and 30s. Often called the Empress of the Blues, Bessie, like so many torch-singers had a traumatic private life, plagued by alcohol problems, and stormy relationships. This is a well-made film, beautiful to look at, and not shirking from showing Bessie in all her troubled glory. Queen Latifah is brilliant in the title role.
BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (2012)
Dir: John Madden
A sort of feelgood rom-com for oldies, ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ brings together what would provably be called a National Treasure-trove of British actors – Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy – as a bunch of pensioners trying to relocate to India. There are some great lines in it (“I can get HobNobs out here you know, I’ve found a way”), and interesting characters who all have their own demons to face. It’s not the most demanding story you’re likely to find, but it does what it sets out to do perfectly well.
BETWEEN TWO WORLDS (1944)
Dir: Edward A Blatt
It’s many years since I’ve since this film, but I’m including it here because I would love to see it again, and it only seems to be available on Region 1 DVD (don’t get me started). It was made during World War 2, and is a strange, eerie tale about a ship carrying passengers across the Atlantic. Gradually it dawns on them that they are in fact all dead, and are soon about to meet their Maker (literally). From what I recall it rather overdoes the pious morality at times, but nevertheless it’s an imaginative tale, where the good get rewarded, and the awful get their comeuppance in ways that you don’t automatically foresee. Just to give one example: there is a dreadful old lady who has bullied her meek husband for years, and who is obsessed with material things. She gets punished by being given a castle … which she has to live in all alone, FOREVER. Crumbs. Incidentally, the crew of the ship are all suicides, who presumably are all having to work out their passage in the After-Life.
THE BIG CIRCUS (1959)
Dir: Joseph M Newman
Lavish film about the ups-and-downs of life in a 1950s travelling circus. This isn’t any old fleabitten circus though, but a spectacular American big top. It’s a bit too glossy and lavish (and heartily American) for me at times, as I tend to like my film circuses with a bit of a seedy air to them, but it works fine as entertainment, and it does have Vincent Price as the ringmaster. There is also quite a spectacular scene about a tightrope walk across the Niagara Falls.
THE BIRDS (1963)
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock
Usually (quite rightly) regarded as Hitchcock’s ultimate masterpiece. He seemed to reach the peak of his career with this one, as if he finally threw everything he had at the canvas, and then sank back, satiated. Adapted from a short story by Daphne du Maurier, and relocated from Cornwall to the Californian coastline, ‘The Birds’ has been analysed at great length already. I don’t feel I can really add much more to it, except to say that it is a truly fine piece of film-making, although at times I have to confess to being baffled as to why. It’s very long for a start, and at times the pace may seem glacial to a modern audience, but this is Hitchcock enjoying himself. You don’t rush something you truly enjoy. Many snarky comments have been made about Tippi Hedren’s acting ability, but she is perfectly right for the role of socialite Melanie Daniels. She is beautiful, elegant, very sweet and charming, and resourceful when required. I don’t quite see why she has such a thing for Rod Taylor, nice enough guy though he is, and his mother (Jessica Tandy) is a complete and utter whingeing pain in the neck. I was more intrigued by his ex-girlfriend, the schoolteacher (Suzanne Pleshette), and the moody, twilight scene where she and Melanie discuss Rod over a stiff drink is a stand-out favourite. I’ve read people baffled by the climactic scene where Melanie is attacked by birds in the attic. Lots of angst about What Was Hitchcock Trying To Achieve? It’s quite simple really. To put it bluntly, it’s a symbolism of rape. The scene where Rod takes her out of the house afterwards, and she seems to be in a state of catatonic shock reinforces that. All in all, a highly disturbing film, particularly when you look at the director’s mindset in filming it, but cinematic art all the same.
BIRDS OF PREY (1930)
Dir: Basil Dean
Absolutely atrocious low-budget “thriller”, (I’m not even sure that’s what I should be calling it), the sort of film which would have Americans shaking their heads and going “those Limeys just don’t know how to make a movie”. The director, Basil Dean, was a big noise in the theatre at that time, but his forays into cinema are largely regarded as a disaster. This one is a good case in point. It’s far too slow and talky, there are too many stretches where nothing seems to be happening but a bunch of upper-class nitwits chatting, giving annoyingly affected little laughs, and complaining about other guests who clearly aren’t up to their social level. The story involves one of them, a retired colonial policeman, being the target of a revenge plot by some ruffians who had run up against him years ago. The murder, when it takes place, has no suspense whatsoever. There is no Whodunnit aspect, as we see who damn well does it, and the rest of the film is taken up with some dim-witted coppers trying to figure out what the audience already knows. The pacing is dreadful. Nobody acts naturally. The villains are out of Panto It-Must-Have-Been-The-Weird-Forriner-What-Did-It school. And the accents are like nails on a chalkboard. Nobody these days – not even the Queen – speaks as painfully posh as this bunch do. Hollywood could have done something half-decent with this film, but clearly it was beyond us at the time.
THE BLACK SWAN (1942)
Dir: Henry King
Vintage pirate flick, which packs more than it’s fair share of swashbuckling. Watcheable these days mainly for the glorious Maureen O’Hara, who plays a haughty aristocrat Lady Margaret, who is kidnapped by a pirate (Tyrone Power). Herself is at her loveliest, and she manages to take everything that’s thrown at her with dignity. I found Tyrone Power’s character a bit boorish, but hey he’s a pirate, I guess they weren’t renowned for being sophisticated gents! Maureen makes sure he doesn’t get things easy. A must for any fan of pirate movies. TRIVIA CORNER: Ms O’Hara said that Tyrone was a lot of fun to work with. There’s one scene where she’s trying to be indignant with him, and I swear she’s trying her best not to laugh!
BLACK SWAN (2010)
Dir: Darren Aronofsky
This film is that rare thing in modern cinema … a truly unique experience. In fact, I would argue that anyone left completely unshaken by the last 30 minutes should have their pulse tested to see if they’re still alive. At first I wasn’t terribly impressed with it. It felt like ‘All About Eve’ set in the ballet world, but without the bitchy, funny repartee. A young ballerina, Nina (Natalie Portman), has to take over the lead role in ‘Swan Lake’, and finds herself becoming more and more submerged into her role, losing her own identity in the process. She is bullied by her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey), her sleazy tyrannical boss (Vincent Cassels), and most fatally of all, by a fellow dancer (Mila Kunis) who encourages Nina to move over to her dark side. But as the film went on I became more and more swept up into it, until the final part felt truly astonishing. It’s hard to put into words, but at times like this a film ceases to become simply a couple of hours of entertainment, and moves into a higher more magical sphere. Sorry if that sounds pretentious, but this film was truly something else entirely. I’m almost frightened to watch it again in case I can’t recapture that first rapture. Even so, it’s become one of my favourite films of all time, and proof that cinema can still pull the rabbit out of the hat when it chooses to do so.
THE BLACK TORMENT (1964)
Dir: Robert Hartford-Davis
Sometimes it pains me that this film isn’t better known than it is. It rarely features in film guides, not even ones that specialise in horror movies. It dates from the early 1960s, and is a fairly effective little chiller, very much in the Victoria Holt gothic mystery/romance genre. Set in the 18th century, it concerns a young bride (pretty Elizabeth Sellers), who is taken to her new husband’s ancestral pile on the top of a steep hill. Soon she finds herself being haunted by his dead first wife, who roams the grounds at night on horseback shouting “murderer! murderer!” Marvellous. The very first time I saw this – which admittedly was a very long time ago – I actually got quite spooked out by the scene where Anne sees the veiled phantom in her bedroom. The period detail is great without being overwhelming, and some of the lines are terrific. “Madam, you deliberately laid your whip across my arm!” TRIVIA CORNER: John Turner, who plays Charles, makes full use of his formidable voice in this film. He was to do the same several years later when he played Roderick Spode in the 1980s TV adaptation of ‘Jeeves And Wooster’.
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)
Dirs: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez
‘The Blair Witch Project’ was pretty much a cinema phenomenon, and has spawned a whole rash of copycat “found footage” films since. I remember all the hoo-haa when it first came out, and for a time plenty of us did actually think this film was the real McCoy, that this particular backwoods of America was haunted by some evil old woman with hairy arms (called Mary Brown, which always makes me laugh as that was my grandmother’s name) who abducted children. Yes I know, silly. But you have to hand it to the PR people on this film, they knew what the hell they were doing. The film does work very effectively as a chiller, and refreshingly, just for once, it doesn’t involve mad slashers cutting people up with chainsaws. In fact, there’s something quite reassuring that we can still be spooked out by the sight of a few voodoo-like devices hanging from some trees! And how many times has Heather Donohue’s shot of her sobbing to camera, snotty-nosed and in a woolly hat, been spoofed now? I think it was even used on a beer ad for a while. I particularly liked the vox-pop scenes at the beginning, where the young film-makers interview the townsfolk for their take on the legend. This is very well done. For reinventing horror, and particularly in a way that was non-violent, it deserves all its kudos.
BLANCHE FURY (1948)
Dir: Marc Allegret
During the 1940s Gainsborough Pictures produced some highly successful bodice-rippers, classic ones like ‘The Man In Grey’ and ‘The Wicked Lady’. ‘Blanche Fury’ was an attempt to capitalise on their success, but to give the tried and trusted costume drama format a harder edge. This has a strong feel of a Victoria Holt novel, albeit one without any happy ending. Feisty young woman, Blanche (Valerie Hobson), reduced to waiting on bad-temped bed-ridden old women, is summoned to work as a governess at the estate of a relation. Based on a real Victorian murder case, the story follows Blanche’s tortured relationships, ending in murder, and general tragedy all round. Although the film is handsome to look at, and boasts the ever-watcheable Stewart Granger in the cast, it wasn’t a great success. I suspect the public at the time didn’t want the harder edge. They were more used to Margaret Lockwood and James Mason smouldering at one another. Valerie Hobson was an interestingly different actress. But in this she seems too hard. The first shot of her makes her come across as a spiteful vixen. Nowt wrong with bad girls of course. And in ‘The Wicked Lady’ Margaret Lockwood committed her share of dark deeds, but she did all that with a sassy style. In this Blanche is just cold-blooded and haughty. According to Wikipedia, the producer Anthony Havelock-Allen, said the film failed to find an audience because “there was real hatred in it … and the public didn’t want it”. Granger described it as “grim and melodramatic”, and it certainly lacks the flashes of humour you often get in vintage bodice-rippers. Still worth a watch if you love bodice-rippers, but it’s not an uplifting experience.
BLESS THIS HOUSE (1972)
Dir: Gerald Thomas
Film spin-off of a popular Brit TV sitcom from the early 1970s, which starred Sid James and Diana Coupland as the longsuffering parents of two teenagers. I like this film. It makes me laugh (which is all I ask from a comedy really), and has a bit of an escapist feel to it for those of us old codgers who grew up in the 70s. Sally Geeson is a delight as the eco-obsessed daughter, banging on about pollution and tin-cans (so that’s when it all started?!). Robin Askwith takes the role of Mike, the son, driving about in a flower-painted Volkswagon Beetle, and working on obscure modern sculptures in the garage. There is an innocence to it all, which you probably wouldn’t get in a film about disputes between neighbours, and wayward teenagers these days.
BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW (1970)
Dir: Piers Haggard
Life was grim in the good old days. You had to plough a muddy field with your bare hands. The only bit of enjoyment you got was playing a gloomy round of cards by the light of a guttering candle. If you had to call the doctor out, he drank all your noggin, consulted books about witchcraft, and then cured you by slitting open your veins. And if you had a bad hair day everyone assumed you were possessed by the Devil! ‘Blood On Satan’s Claw’ is an eerily effective Brit horror from the early 1970s. A farmer accidentally unearths a skull whilst ploughing one day, and from then on the village is plagued by witchcraft and devil-worship. There is a graphic rape scene at the centre of the film, which is still pretty unsettling to watch. Not to say downright weird, considering that we have Frank Spencer’s wife (Michele Dotrice) present at it! The music is also highly atmospheric, being a sort of strange whistling affair, reminiscent of the kind that was used in the spooky old TV series ‘West Country Tales’. According to Wikipedia the film was a flop when it was released, but posterity has been kind to it. A fairly recent analysis of the horror genre on television has probably done wonders for bringing it to a fresh audience. Apparently the film was originally to be set in Victorian times, but the makers thought that era had been done to death, and – inspired by the success of Witchfinder General – relocated it to the 17th century, the era of rank superstition and witchcraft persecution. It’s an odd, eerie little chiller with graphic moments. It also captures it’s era well.
BLOOD SNOW (2009)
Dir: Jason Robert Stephens
Irritating modern horror which draws inspiration from the notorious Donner Party expedition of the 1840s, in which a bunch of gold rush pioneers got stranded in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and had to resort to cannibalism. Fast forward to the 21st century and we have a small group of entirely characterless young Americans who are renting out a cabin in the same area. Naturally they do this in spite of being warned off by hostile locals at the nearest bar (obligatory really). The snow-drenched scenery is gorgeous, but the film defeated me because no one in it can act for toffee. In fact, it’s quite painful to listen to. There must be tonnes of young actors out there who CAN act, and would love to be given the chance to do so. But somehow films like this manage to pass over them completely. It happens all the time. TRIVIA CORNER: Incidentally, the Donner Party story also inspired Charlie Chaplin to make his masterpiece ‘The Gold Rush’, a classic case of comedy coming out of horror and tragedy.
Dir: Edward Dmytryk
Not exactly the high point of Richard Burton’s career. A nasty exploitative little film from 1972 which has all the worst excesses of the early 1970s. Now perhaps the story of Bluebeard – the man who bumped off several wives – could actually be made into a half-decent little comedy-horror, if you had someone like Vincent Price or Johnny Depp in the title role, who would be able to camp it up outrageously. Burton can’t. That’s the trouble. As a black comedy it could work. Unfortunately this has all the worst misogynistic attitudes of it’s era running right through it. Burton simply couldn’t do comedy anyway. He bumps off each wife for a variety of reasons, one has had an affair with a Communist, one is a shrew, another is incredibly boring etc etc. A particular low-point is the fiery Suffragette who finds she has a masochistic side. Now OK even this could work as black comedy (at a stretch admittedly), but it’s repulsive. The very fact that this film was made at all shows the dark side of the 1970s in all its un-glory.
THE BOAT THAT ROCKED (2009)
Dir: Richard Curtis
I’m hard pushed to think of any film from recent years that has been so spectacularly out-gunned by events In Real Life as this one has been. It was made as a fun homage to the days of British pirate radio in the 1960s. Except since then we’ve been deluged by Operation YewTree and the vile antics of Jimmy Savile et al. Suddenly this doesn’t look fun, but instead incredibly seedy. Take this line, when one of the DJ’s is watching a bunch of young girls approaching the ship: “it’s a boat-load of honey, and I wanna sleep with ’em all!” I’m sure the disgusting Mr Savile would have heartily concurred. Add to that scenes where lecherous DJ’s croon over the airwaves to listening schoolgirls. Kenneth Branagh tries his best in the pantomime villain role as the Man From The Ministry who wants to shut down all their fun, aided by a Mr Twatt (ho-bloody-ho), but it all looks hopelessly cartoon-ish, and has all the charm of an idiot’s stag night. For authenticity, I’m sure it captures the misogyny of the 1960s admirably. The only thing to treasure about it is the soundtrack.
BOXING HELENA (1993)
Dir: Jennifer Chambers Lynch
This film is largely known these days (if it’s known at all) for it’s off-screen drama. It was the film that bankrupted Kim Basinger when she pulled out of it, resulting in a catastrophic legal case. Watching it though, I can quite understand why she got cold feet about it (as did Madonna apparently). It’s a weird, nasty little tale about a surgeon (Julian Sands), psychologically damaged by his ballbreaking mother, who is obsessed with a feisty young lady (Sherilynn Fenn). He kidnaps her and confines her to his house, cutting off her legs and then her arms so that she will be completely dependant on him. This is one of those films where Sands – who can either be very good or very awkward – is simply embarrassing. There is a reasonably good twist at the end, but overall it’s an unpleasant film.
THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE (1962)
Dir: Joseph Green
Absolutely stark staring bonkers low-budget horror from 1962. It’s so mad it must surely fit into the It’s So Bad It’s Good category. A young surgeon wants to give his girlfriend a new body, after she is decapitated in a road accident. So where does our hero go to find a “doner”? Why only the nearest sleazy strip-joint of course. The head of his lady love meanwhile is attached to wires in a basement laboratory, and she has a habit of cackling most unpleasantly. Not only that, but a hideous deformed mutant is kept padlocked in a broom cupboard in a corner of the room (don’t ask). The film actually starts quite well, with a woman’s agonised voice crying “let me die!” But that’s about the only good thing about it. The acting is atrocious. Scenes that are meant to be horrifying are hilarious (such as the lab assistant who, after having his arm torn off by the monster, takes AN ABSOLUTE AGE to die, and staggers all over the house, clutching his side). The monster, when we finally see it, made me laugh out loud. BUT, having said all that, this film is so crazy that I’m actually quite fond of it. Worth seeing if you love low-budget trashy horrors of yesteryear.
BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)
Dir: James Whale
Outstanding horror from 1935, which by many people is counted as even better than it’s predecessor, ‘Frankenstein’, released 4 years before. This is the sort of film which has been endlessly analysed, usually for it’s camp undertones, so I will just say what I found captivating about it. First and foremost, the marvellously quirky Elsa Lanchester. Even though she only appears for a few minutes, at the beginning and end of the film, the movie is still very much her’s. She owns it. At the beginning she appears in Regency costume as Mary Shelley, discussing her creation with Lord Byron. At the end she memorably reappears as the Bride, sporting the kind of hairdo that Sybil Fawlty would have envied, and hissing like a good ‘un (Elsa was said to have been inspired by the hissing of the swans in a London park). Then there is Ernest Thesiger, camping it up splendidly as Dr Pretorius. When I first saw this as a child I was captivated by Dr Pretorius’s miniature people, and watching it again now I still find them a lot of fun. He also has some great lines. “Would you like a gin? Gin is my ONLY weakness”. And “To the world of gods and monsters”. As a judge of castles and haunted houses in films, I have to say the Baron’s is pretty good (“I think it’s a charming house” – Dr Pretorius). And then of course there is Karloff, clomping around in boots and hobo’s jacket, and heartbreakingly saying “friend” to the ungrateful Bride. The only bit I can’t stand is Una O’Connor’s hysterical old woman act, which drives me nuts. I sympathised with the Baron, when he wearily snaps “oh come in!” when she knocks on his door.
BRIDE OF THE GORILLA (1951)
Dir: Curt Siodmak
Probably the only real reason to watch this low-budget flick from 1951 is the presence of platinum-haired Barbara Payton. In this she has a sort of Lana Turner-ish role as the unsatisfied wife of a scientist, buried in some jungle outback. A disgruntled old native woman doctors his drink one evening, and suddenly he starts to come over all animal after sundown. Although the film runs at only just over an hour long, it plods along as though it’s under no obligation to entertain us at all. Ms Payton actually does a reasonably good job, and acts her role with painful seriousness. Unfortunately the film doesn’t really seem to know what it wants to be. It’s not frightening, so it doesn’t work as horror, and in spite of Barbara, the trashy title, and the steamy setting, it doesn’t work as low-budget erotica either. TRIVIA CORNER: Barbara Payton’s life was a terrible object lesson in how cruel the whole Hollywood environment can be. Her career ended in the 1950s, and from then on she turned to prostitution to fuel her drink habit. When she died in 1967, at her parent’s home (she had ended up homeless as well), her heart, lungs and liver had been wrecked.
THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960)
Dir: Terence Fisher
Dark Transylvanian forest, thunderstorm, carriage driving recklessly through the trees, yes we’re in vintage Hammer territory. Low-key but effective effort from 1960. There is no Christopher Lee, and it has to be said, he is missed. Instead we have David Peel, as a strange young man who is kept manacled up in the ancestral family home by his anguished mother (Martita Hunt). Yvonne Monlaur is the damsel-in-distress, on her way to a young ladies academy, who is enticed back to the house from the village inn. She looks fetching in a Victorian negligee, but is a bit of an irritating dimwit, constantly ignoring good advice, and plunging everything into chaos as a result. But I guess if she showed common-sense, she wouldn’t have gone to the house, and it would be a very short film! Peter Cushing is on hand, to lend stalwart support as Van Helsing, but Freda Jackson acts everyone off the screen as Greta, the family’s demented servant. In fact, at times her constant maniacal cackling got right on my nerves. It’s not my favourite Hammer film, but it is highly regarded. Interesting to compare the restrained school scenes with the outright soft porn efforts in ‘Lust For A Vampire’, made just over 10 years later. The 1960s changed everything.
BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY (2001)
Dir: Sharon Maguire
I must admit I never really understood the whole Bridget Jones phenomenon. We are meant to believe this young woman is a loser, and yet (a) she has an interesting job, (b) she’s not short of male attention, and (c) if you think she’s fat you really need to get out more! But phenomenon it is. It’s an enjoyable bit of chick-lit entertainment, and Rene Zellweger is great fun as Bridget (although at times it does seem to have typecast her into wacky screwball roles). Hugh Grant and Colin Firth play the male eye-candy, and do a pretty splendid job of it too. TRIVIA CORNER: when Bridget Jones first appeared in the early 1990s as a column in ‘The Independent’, I thought she was a real person! This confused me for ages. Now you can take this as proof of me having been exceptionally dim, or Helen Fielding being a good writer. I suggest the latter.
BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945)
Dir: David Lean
It’s quite astonishing really how well this film holds up after so many years. Of course it’s dated in parts. The children in particular speak with incredibly plummy voices, and Celia Johnson’s husband seems remarkably non-reactive, with his old-school Mustn’t Make A Fuss Now-type Britishness. But as a romantic film it still packs a powerful punch, and Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard do a sterling job of portraying doomed love. The comedy interludes in the station bar, with Joyce Carey and Stanley Holloway, add some much-needed light relief from all that angst amongst the steam trains. It’s been spoofed and lampooned many times, but I defy anyone not to be bawling their eyes out at the end of it. I feel quite weepy just thinking about it. ADDENDUM: I dug out the final scene from YouTube to post on Twitter for Valentine’s Day, and it still reduced me to tears. Just perfect.
BURNT OFFERINGS (1976)
Dir: Dan Curtis
Haunted house horror movie from 1976 which was received poorly at the time of its release, but which seems to have since been re-valued, and is now regarded as much better than some professional critics would have you believe. I even saw it on a list of the 40 Best Haunted House Movies Ever. It is an intriguing little chiller, with a good, solid cast, and its fair share of eerie moments. Also, unlike a lot of more recent horror films, it doesn’t rely on flashy gimmicks to give you scares. I actually don’t understand what caused it to get so savaged in it’s day. The only real complaint I have about it is that nearly 2 hours running time, it’s probably a tad too long. Apparently it is one of Stephen King’s favourite films, and it does bear a similarity in many ways to ‘The Shining’. A married couple with a young son arrive to take up a temporary tenancy of an isolated house. Only instead of a vast hotel, we have a colonial white-pillared mansion. The owners are a creepy pair, who are offering the house at a vastly reduced rent, on condition they don’t mind putting up with their reclusive old mother, who lives in the attic. In some ways I actually prefer it to ‘The Shining’. It’s less showy, less hysterical. We are spared Jack Nicholson’s pantomime turn, and the unspeakably irritating Shelley Duvall, who drives me nuts every time I see it. (Don’t get me started on the little boy crooking his finger and croaking the name of a Grand National winner all over the place). Anyway, in this one we have the excellent Oliver Reed, who does a splendid job as a mild-mannered academic, Karen Black as his wife who finds her personality being taken over by the house, and the legendary Bette Davis as the feisty aunt. The gist of the haunting seems to be that it is the house which is the spooky entity, and the house demands a human sacrifice to rejuvenate itself every so often. An idea which was first used in Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting Of Hill House’. In essence, the house is vampirising the people who live in it. TRIVIA CORNER: Bette Davis hated making the film. She found Oliver Reed’s drunken rampages back at the hotel terrifying. It’s hard to imagine anyone terrifying Bette Davis, but she was a frail old lady by then. On screen though, they work well together, with no hint of any underlying tension. True professionals.
THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI (1920)
Dir: Robert Wiene
If you want the cinematic equivalent of the Crazy House at the funfair, then this film is it. Made in Germany in 1920, ‘The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari’ is often regarded as the first full-length horror film. The sets are all abstract and crooked, and most of the actors wander about in panstick make-up, looking like a Goth’s dream. At the beginning of the film, one young lady walks slowly towards the camera in a Ring-like white nightgown and long dark hair, reminding me of some creepy joke vids that used to be posted on the Internet years ago. Dr Caligari is a very odd old man, who puts on a turn at a funfair, whereby he exhibits a young man, whom he claims has been in a deep sleep for the past 23 years. He will rouse this man out of his protracted slumbers, and he will answer any question the audience asks. The Somnambulist looks suitably freaky, with his Alice Cooper eyeliner. When one man asks how long he has to live, the Somnambulist replies eerily “until dawn tomorrow” … and then the man is murdered in his bed. This is a truly eye-catching film. I did wonder if it had been inspired by the peculiar “sleeping sickness” which afflicted some people immediately after the First World War.
CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA (1945)
Dir: Gabriel Pascal
Several years before Elizabeth Taylor stunned the world in the epic ‘Cleopatra’ (see below) came another hugely expensive take on the story of the Queen of the Nile. ‘Caesar and Cleopatra’ was taken from the play by George Bernard Shaw, and it starred Vivien Leigh as the young queen, and Claude Rains as Julius Caesar. Like the 1960s version, the story of the making of this version of ‘Caesar and Cleopatra’ could make a film on its own. No expense was spared. Sand was imported from the Egyptian desert, and care was taken to even make sure the stars in the sky would appear in the same place as they would have been during Cleopatra’s time. All fine and dandy, but it’s a shame more thought couldn’t have been put into giving the script and the direction some Oomph! I realise I’m probably committing heresy by writing that, after all this is the great Shaw we’re talking about here, but even so, this film is horribly stagey and theatrical. It is however a very beautiful-looking movie, particularly with its soft, dreamy colours. There are some magical shots, such as Cleopatra snoozing in her bed overlooking the waters of the Nile. Claude Rains is brilliant as Caesar. He’s an actor who is always worth watching. Vivien Leigh looks absolutely exquisite, as if she’s made of bone china, but plays the queen too much as a bratty upper-class schoolgirl. There is no denying when you’re watching her that she was an outstanding actress, but she doesn’t seem to have been allowed to give the role any depth. It’s simply not worthy of her. I found it hard to believe that she was making this nearly a decade on from Scarlett O’Hara. The film lacks all the earthy, torrid undercurrents that made the Liz Taylor version so notorious. Flora Robson also irritates the darned bejaysus out of me as Cleo’s bossy nurse. A tragic fact about the movie is the scene where Cleo goes to whip a quivering slave. Vivien tripped and fell as she rushed to do so, and miscarried her baby. Something she never forgave the director (Gabriel Pascal) for. The cost of the film was ruinous. It was the most expensive British film to be made up to that time, and the public stayed away in droves. Worthy, hugely expensive theatrical pieces clearly were not what they were after. It’s worth a look now for the beautiful sets, costumes and colours, and the splendid Claude Rains. It’s just a pity that by and large the makers of this movie were too damn awed by George Bernard Shaw to remember that they were actually supposed to be providing entertainment. No amount of Egyptian sand, bright stars in the sky, and lovely costumes, can make up for a stodgy, passionless pudding of a film.
CALL HER SAVAGE (1932)
Dir: John Francis Dillon
Ooh what a saucy little minx that Clara Bow was! Made in 1932, this is one of It Girl Clara’s few Talkies. She plays Nasa Springer, who can best be described as a Right Old Handful. We first see her riding hell-for-leather through some woods (minus a brassiere). She thrashes a rattlesnake with her whip, and then proceeds to beat the living daylights out of her besotted admirer as well. When a guitar-player annoys her with his strumming (well it IS annoying to be honest), she smashes his instrument over his head. In a forlorn attempt to turn her into a lady, her grumpy father packs her off to a Young Ladies’ Academy in Chicago. Unfortunately Nasa sees this as a golden opportunity to get into even more trouble. Before we know it, she’s getting into a cat-fight with brassy Thelma Todd, and racketing into an unhappy marriage. This is a great film for Clara, enabling her to showcase all that red-headed fiery-ness, and yet bring out her sensitive side too. There’s no denying she was a good actress, and a right sexy little bundle too. ADDENDUM: Clara’s platinum-haired co-star, Thelma Todd, had the terrible honour of ending up as one of Hollywood’s most famous deaths. She was found dead in her car in suspicious circumstances in 1935, and the mystery still remains unsolved to this day.
CAPTAIN KRONOS VAMPIRE HUNTER (1972)
Dir: Brian Clemens
An admirable British attempt from 1972 (although it wasn’t released until 1974) to sort of cross-breed the Hammer vampire tale with the spaghetti western genre. I watched this on YouTube, where it seems to have acquired cult classic status, and I’ve read glowing reviews of it from younger viewers. It’s a very imaginative effort, and I did like the way the hoary old vampire legend has been reworked to great effect. Instead of Christopher Lee in a black cape sinking his teeth into the necks of pretty girls, we have a strange entity in a hooded black habit, who is haunting a forest. Whatever it passes, such as flowers, or wild mushrooms, are left withered and rotted. Human victims are left aged and frail, even if they’re in the full bloom of youth. This to me seems a far more frightening concept than something nicking your blood, and I’m amazed it hasn’t been used more often, particularly in these days when everyone’s obsessed with health and youth! The village inn scenes are the ones that show the spaghetti western aspirations the most, unfortunately for me they just didn’t really work, and that’s down to the casting, which is uninspired. The actors simply don’t have enough presence to carry it off. And so this brings me to my biggest gripe about the movie, the casting of Captain Kronos himself. We have Horst Janson. I honestly don’t wish to criticise him too much, I’m sure he’s a lovely guy, but he simply doesn’t have the suave, dynamic posturing required for such a role. He also has no humour (vital!) or charm. When I think what some actors could have done with a role like this … but hey-ho, this is what we’ve got. Male viewers can look at sexy Caroline Munro, whereas we have, frankly, a shop-window mannequin in a soldier’s uniform, when really we were crying out for Captain Flashheart. C’est la vie.
THE CAR (1977)
Dir: Elliot Silverstein
I remember this being shown late one night many years ago, and the TV reviews being generally very dismissive of it. Yes it is a bit of a silly story – a weird black car terrorises a remote desert town – and yet I think it still has it’s share of creepy moments. Like ‘Duel’ we never find out who the driver is, so we are led to speculate that it is the Devil behind the wheel. I was reminded of it again when seeing it mentioned on the Church of Satan’s list of recommended films. (See ‘Carnival Of Souls’ below). Very very rarely shown on British TV these days, but it does seem to be available on dvd, and clips are on YouTube. Apparently it was made to capitalise on the huge success of ‘Jaws’, but with a car in the shark role. Not as daft as you might think.
CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962)
Dir: Herk Harvey
I hope you like organ music, because oh boy, do you get a lot of it in this film. Mary is a young woman who is involved in a car accident. When she recovers she gets a job as a church organist in Utah. Unfortunately she finds herself being haunted by a sinister pasty-faced man in a black suit. ‘Carnival Of Souls’ enjoys impressive cult status, and there is also something distinctly eerie and other-worldly about these kind of low-budget 1960s movies, which always gives them a disturbing quality. I can’t quite make my mind up about it. As I said, it has an unsettling air, and the abandoned pavilion is suitably spooky. Unfortunately I was put off by the acting which is absolutely atrocious. All the characters seem to drawl at Very Slow Speed as though they’ve been doped or lobotomised. I may have to watch it again to do it justice. TRIVIA CORNER: I found this film listed on the Church of Satan’s list of recommended films. Along with ‘The Abominable Dr Phibes’, ‘Night Of The Demon’ and ‘Night Tide’.
CARRY ON ABROAD (1972)
Dir: Gerald Thomas
I do get sick and tired of po-faced politically-correct lot who seem to regard this film as xenophobic. It’s an unpretentious bit of fun, about a bunch of Brits who go on a weekend break to Spain. That is all. Am not sure where the xenophobic bits come in, unless it’s the running gags about the hotel being half-built (which are very funny). Trouble is, I’m old enough to remember when that was what you got if you went on a low-budget trip to the Med! In the film the basement of the hotel gets flooded out in a storm, and that is exactly what happened when I went on a trip to Ibiza in the early 1980s. We were wading through god-knows-what to get to the public loo’s one evening. Anyway, if you’re NOT politically-correct, then this is a fun way to spend a bit of time. Most of the gang are here, Kenneth Williams, Sid James, Barbara Windsor, Joan Sims, Charlie Hawtrey, Hattie Jacques and Kenneth Connor. June Whitfield also pops up as a whining, nagging wife who gets magically transformed into a saucy minx after an evening with a suave local. (The PC-lot probably object to that one too). There is also a sweet touch when the booze at the last evening’s party gets spiked, and the vicar leads everyone in a sing-song!
CARRY ON CAMPING (1969)
Dir: Gerald Thomas
‘Cleo’ and ‘Henry’ are undoubtedly better Carry On films, but I have a soft spot for this one. It was filmed in a sodden field in October, and shows middle-aged men leering over schoolgirls, which these days looks dodgy to say the least, but it’s still an engaging bit of fun. It probably helps if you remember the “schoolgirls” in this were being played by women in their late twenties and thirties! (A bit like ‘Grease’ when you stop and think about it). It also contains Barbara Windsor’s legendary bra-busting moment, the most famous scene in Carry On history. I read a while back that Sir Laurence Olivier was being driven to work one day when he saw Charlie Hawtrey, on his way to the ‘Camping’ set walking along the side of the road. Sir Larry gave him a lift. What a conversation that would have been to eavesdrop on!
CARRY ON CLEO (1964)
Dir: Gerald Thomas
Rightly regarded as one of the best from the Carry On stable. I’m not arguing. Kenneth Williams is superb as Julius Caesar, strutting around like Tony Blair in a hissy fit, constantly exclaiming that no one understands him. The magnificently shrewish Joan Sims gobbles grapes in her bath, and tears a strip off him for being 4 years late coming home from his latest invasion. Amanda Barrie makes an absolute adorable Cleopatra, spending most of her time in her asses milk bath, being ditzy and alluring in a bath-cap. Jim Dale puts in his usual loveable goofy turn as an ancient Briton, hampered by his bumbling best mate, Kenneth Connor as Hengist Pod, inventor of the square wheel. I watched the classic “infamy! infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!” scene again recently on YouTube, and was struck by just how fast and furious the gags come flying. Respect.
CARRY ON COWBOY (1965)
Dir: Gerald Thomas
Another classy entry in the Carry On series, as the team send up B-westerns. Jim Dale is a British sanitary inspector – Marshall P Nutt – who is sent to a mid-west town to check on its drains, only to be mistaken for the new sheriff. Sid James is the Rumpo Kid, Joan Sims as the saloon madam, Kenneth Williams as a drawling lawyer, the marvellous Angela Douglas as sharp-shootin’ Annie Oakley, and Charlie Hawtrey camping it deliriously as the local Indian Chief. In many ways it’s like a forerunner of ‘Blazing Saddles’, particularly when Hawtrey downs a bottle of scotch in one go! I still found it very laugh-out-loud, and great to see the team on such top-form. The shoot-out at the end, when Nutt makes full use of the drains to take on the Rumpo Kid, is legendary.
CARRY ON GIRLS (1973)
Dir: Gerald Thomas
Some might argue this is the Carry Ons at their most objectionable, and yes it’s very much of it’s time (the early 1970s), and no it’s not one of the best in the series by any stretch of the imagination. It doesn’t have the charm of the early black-and-white Carry Ons, or the quality of the costume ones like Cleo, Khyber and Screaming, and yet it still does the job in it’s own special way. A down-at-heel seaside town decides to host a beauty contest to boost trade, which raises the ire of the local Women’s Lib movement, who decide to sabotage it. And that’s basically it. Except we do have the delicious sight of Bernard Bresslaw in drag. Poor old Joan Hickson gets a cameo part as a dotty old lady, and there’s something a bit uncomfortable about seeing the future Miss Marple going on about her knickers! My favourite character is Patsy Rowlands as the woebegone Lady Mayoress, clumping around in her dressing-gown, fag in mouth. Often shown late at night on British TV over Christmas and Easter, when I’m usually in the right frame of mind for it. TRIVIA CORNER: according to Wikipedia, Valerie Leon (who plays Bresslaw’s prim girlfriend) had her voice dubbed by co-star June Whitfield. No one knows why.
CARRY ON HENRY (1971)
Dir: Gerald Thomas
The Carry On team take another hatchet to history, with this deliriously fun romp set at the court of King Henry VIII. Whereas ‘Carry On Cleo’ was effectively a piss-take of Elizabeth Taylor’s ‘Cleopatra’, this is a send-up of ‘Anne Of The Thousand Days’. So we have Joan Sims with a lay-it-on-with-a-trowel French accent, snacking on garlic bulbs in bed (you don’t watch the Carry Ons for their political correctness, any more than you do for their historical accuracy!). Sid James is a randy Henry, appearing lecherously in his nightshirt, clutching his orb and sceptre. Barbara Windsor puts in her customary saucy, buxom wench mode (“Ma’am the King has done me!”). Terry Scott is Cardinal Wolsey (he threatened to wear his robes to church to try and intimidate everyone!), Kenneth Connor is the Prince Of Berks, and Charles Hawtrey makes one of the most unlikely red-hot lovers ever to grace the screen, Sir Roger of Bedside Manor, Wilts.
CARRY ON SCREAMING (1966)
Dir: Gerald Thomas
Classy and very funny effort from the Carry On team, sending up the Hammer Horror genre with total panache. Harry H Corbett, of ‘Steptoe And Son’ appears in his only Carry On as a Victorian police sergeant investigating the disappearances of young women from a public park. Little does he know it but they’re being kidnapped by a splendidly gothic brother and sister (Kenneth Williams and Fielding Fielding) to be turned into shop window mannequins. I love just about everything about this film. The cast all seem to be enjoying themselves (particularly Williams, who has never been better), a fruity-voiced Fenella vamping it up outrageously in a skin-tight red gown, Joan Sims in full throttle in one of her battleaxe roles, and Jim Dale in one of his loveably goofy modes. It takes every horror element it can, from Hammer, the Universal studios classics of the 1930s, and the Addams Family and has a ball. There is some superb comic timing going on here, and the actors all spark off each other splendidly. A word must also be said about the costumes and decor, which comfortably ape Hammer’s attention to period detail. Creepy old house with fog swirling around it, horse-drawn carriages, corsets and brandy decanters. Love it. TRIVIA CORNER: ‘Carry On Screaming’ was one of the more improbable entries in Channel 4’s list of ‘The 100 Scariest Moments’, but then so was ‘The Wizard Of Oz’, believe it or not!
CASINO ROYALE (1967)
Dirs: Ken Huges, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Val Guest, Robert Talmadge, Old Uncle Tom Cobbley and all.
Orson Welles, Peter Sellers, David Niven, Deborah Kerr, Ursula Andress, George Raft, Woody Allen, Bernard Cribbins, Richard Wattis and Ronnie Corbett. This sounds like a film cast to die for. So what the blazes went wrong?? Every time this film trots around on TV, you can hear a groan go up across the land as everyone saw ‘Casino Royale’ in the listings, and thought they were going to get Daniel Craig (see below) instead. Every time I see this film, I think WHY didn’t it work? It wasn’t through lack of talent (obviously), and it wasn’t through lack of zest and vitality. The list of directors gives me a bit of a clue. Too many cooks and all that. It’s very much of it’s time, it has the Sixties stamped all through it, but that shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, distance lends enchantment with films usually. My own twopennarth is that it lacks warmth, and because it lacks warmth it lacks any true sense of fun. Plus people always try to do send-ups of Bond films, ignoring the fact that the Bond franchise itself is the best one for doing that. It has a smug in-joke feel, which must have been great for the actors – who were clearly queuing round the block to appear in this – but feels alienating for the viewer. Sort of “look at all these big stars having fun … why aren’t I then?” Sellers looks dishy in his Cary Grant specs, but again there’s no warmth to him here, none of the bumbling charm of Clouseau for instance. Likewise, Woody Allen has all his neuroses out on display, but none of the self-effacing charm we’re used to in many of his films. And Deborah Kerr was a great lady, but she’s just not funny, well certainly not here anyway. It’s worth watching for the scene where Orson Welles tortures Sellers with a bagpipe sequence, which should give you some idea just how bonkers it is. But overall, it’s an over-long, over-indulgent mess, which proves – once again – that big names alone don’t make a great film.
CASINO ROYALE (2006)
Dir: Martin Campbell
Daniel Craig’s first foray into stepping into Bond’s shoes, and a much welcome overhaul of the series. Gritty and exciting, this ranks as one of the best in the entire Bond canon. Taken from Ian Fleming’s first novel, the film can be confusing at times as it’s referring to Bond as a new character, yet to earn his 007 stripes, but no matter, that’s a small quibble. The film is remarkably faithful to the original book, although opened out considerably. Whereas the book was set entirely in France, the film – in true Bond movie tradition – ventures all over the place. Starting in Uganda, and stopping off at the Bahamas, Miami, and Montenegro, before winding up with a spectacular finale in Venice. Running at well over 2 hours you certainly get your money’s worth. It might not have all the charm of the vintage Bonds, but Craig is a worthy successor to Connery and Moore.
Dir: Nicholas Roeg
The film of Lucy Irvine’s bestselling book can be seen as a parable about marriage compressed into one year. Gerald meets Lucy. Gerald can’t believe his luck because Lucy is sexy, smart and beautiful. Lucy thinks Gerald is witty and adventurous. They get married and set up home together (albeit on a tropical island on the other side of the world). Lucy goes off sex, Gerald gets bad-tempered. Lucy becomes more shrewish and naggy, Gerald turns into a fat lazy old slob who just wants to lounge around all day. Lucy finally lets Gerald have his oats. Gerald can’t believe his luck, and becomes a more loving, caring husband as a result. At the end of their time together, they have reached a state of mutual understanding and respect. Both Oliver Reed and Amanda Donohue are first-rate as the two leads, which is just as well as they largely have to carry the film between them. I remember when it came out the real-life Lucy saying that if Gerald had been as cute and cuddly as Oliver Reed, she’d probably still be on the island! And certainly Reed does a fine job of making Gerald likeable. A lesser actor would have made him a boorish lout. This proves what a good actor he was, and he deserves to be remembered for more than just drunkenly making a tit out of himself on chat shows. Amanda Donohoe also does well in the difficult role of the complex Lucy, a woman made tense and difficult by a traumatic life (read her pre-Castaway memoirs, ‘Runaway’, for more info on her past). The film taps into our fascination with desert islands, and shows us that it’s not all golden beaches and the freedom to wander around in the nude. When their garden fails, the couple face near-starvation, which is summed up by them driving each other to a frenzy by describing their favourite food. It also has a great theme song by Kate Bush, ‘Be Kind To My Mistakes’.
CAT PEOPLE (1942)
Dir: Jacques Torneur
I’m writing this one largely from memory, as it rarely appears on television these days, the full film isn’t available on YouTube, and I’m not forking out nearly a tenner for the dvd, BUT it is a classic of the horror genre and well-deserving of its reputation. In fact, last Halloween I did dig out the two most famous scenes from the film – the swimming-pool scene, and the scene where Alice is stalked as she walks along the street, which are available on YT – and posted them to Twitter. Simone Simon is a young dress-designer, Irena, living in a classy apartment in New York, who is haunted by a legend from the Balkan village of her ancestors, which says that if she has intimacy with a man she will turn into a big cat. Which is a bit unfortunate when she meets and falls for an engineer (called Oliver Reed!), played by Kent Smith. Shot in scrumptious black-and-white, the film has oodles of Atmosphere. The couple marry, but Irena can’t shake that dreadful legend from her mind, and so we have to assume that the newly-weds’ life is somewhat lacking in intimate bliss. To add to Irena’s misfortunes, Oliver shares an office with Alice (Jane Randolph), who confesses that she secretly loves him, and she just can’t bear to see him so darn unhappy. Hmm, if you ask me, that Alice is a right bitch, although I think we supposed to believe she’s just an all-round good ole American gal, down-to-earth, and not like these moody European women. Irena gets suspicious about Alice’s intentions (you can’t really blame her!), and starts to stalk her in cat form. The scenes in the street and at the swimming-pool are genuinely creepy, and still hold up well now. There are also some engaging secondary characters, such as the zoo-keeper, the cleaner at Oliver’s workplace who is obsessed with removing cigarette ash from her bosom, the chatty waitress at the restaurant, and the receptionist at Alice’s lodgings with her delightful 1940s slang. Watch out for the wedding breakfast scene, where Irena is accosted by a fellow Cat Woman. The film was remade in 1982 with Natassja Kinski and Malcolm McDowell. That is a good too, and the relocation to New Orleans works well, but the original has the edge for its monochrome, haunting quality.
Dir: Frank Lloyd
Based on a play by Noel Coward, this film shows the life of two English families (one upper-crust, one working-class) during the first few years of the 20th century. It’s very much of it’s era, with lots of “England won’t be the same place without the old Queen” sort of stuff. It’s a bit too slow in parts (although, having said that the Roaring Twenties seemed to be dismissed in a flickering montage of gloom and depravity), but it’s interesting enough, and still quite moving in parts. TRIVIA CORNER: it was one of the first films to use the word “damn”, which caused some concern amongst the censors at the time.
Dir: Richard Attenborough
I really wanted to like this one, as I’m fascinated by the whole Silent Era of cinema, and Chaplin was undoubtedly the biggest star in the world. This biopic, well-made though it is, lacks something. Zest? Panache? Flair? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s too reverential of it’s subject. Perhaps it was too afraid to go into Chaplin’s darker side (his penchant for young girls for instance, Operation Yewtree would be showing an interest in him these days). The parts that should have been fascinating, such as the making of films in the Silent Era, come across as dreadfully worthy, and the actors all seem lacklustre.
CHEER BOYS CHEER (1939)
Dir: Walter Forde
The last comedy Ealing did in peacetime, before WW2 broke out. Released in August 1939, it is often seen as a satire on the time, with a quirky, idiosyncratic brewery (meant to be the Brits), facing take-over by a ruthless organisation obsessed with efficiency (meant to be Nazi Germany). It’s an engaging film, and worth seeing for Will Hay’s sidekicks Graham Moffatt and Moore Marriott, appearing without him for a change. They’re no less funny without their old sparring partner (in fact some have argued they’re even more so). Nova Pilbeam, as the token girl, doesn’t seem at ease with comedy, coming across as rather too muted and serious, although she’s a good sport, and does her best. (Her voice reminds me so much of Jenny Agutter!). There’s a very funny piece where the CEO of the big brewery is shown reading a copy of ‘Mein Kampf’! Can’t help feeling you could easily remake it now, with all the fears of small businesses being crushed by huge faceless corporations.
CHEMICAL WEDDING (2008)
Dir: Julian Doyle
Perhaps it’s old age coming on, but I seem to have reached a stage in my life where I am seriously bored by Aleister Crowley, and even more bored by any attempts by overgrown students to make out that he was some kind of misunderstood genius. Having said that, I do think there is scope to make a good film about Crowley’s bizarre life, if only to show how he criminally abused and wasted the many talents that Life saw fit to give him. This film isn’t it though. In 1947 two young men go to see a dying drug-addicted Crowley at his Hastings boarding-house. The jolly theme tune – Henry Hall’s ‘Bogeyman’ – is played so loudly and is so distracting though that I couldn’t make out a single word of what the two men were saying to each other when they arrive there. Crowley, a sad, panto figure in shabby pyjama’s (one YouTube comment-er remarked that he looks remarkably like Coronation Street’s Fred Elliott), goes over-the-top and dies on them. Fast-forward a few decades, and there are sinister plans afoot to resurrect Crowley. This is where I got seriously fed up with the film. I don’t know which was worse, the earnest, annoying students, the brash, rude visiting American, or Simon Callow hamming it up HORRIBLY as a university professor. Jeezus, the man can’t even pour out a glass of wine without gurneying all over the place! He seems to have been under the impression that he was appearing in some old Comic Strip spoof. And then we have my absolute bete-noire of horror films – the violent slam-dunk noises which are put in when anything happens. When this occurs just because a girl has opened her eyes (oh God, how many times has that been done!) you know it’s bad. I’ve read some reviews comparing this film to the old Hammer horrors, which makes me rise in umbrage, as the Hammers were in a class way above this. I also take issue with a ‘Guardian’ review which said “at least it isn’t boring”. But it is!!!! I have to confess the tedium did me in, I couldn’t finish it. There. Now hate me. The only good thing I can say about it is that you can download it for free on YouTube, which saves you from having to part with any cash for it.
Short (it’s only 12 minutes long) film based on a story by Robert Aickman. Mark Gatiss plays the kind of socially-awkward academic you normally get in an M R James story. He’s exploring a cathedral in France, when he gets lured down into the crypt by an odd little boy in a blue suit. Impeccably filmed, with a genuine air of unease, but like all Aickman stories it leaves you up in the air somewhat. That’s why so many of us love his work, but it won’t be for everyone.
CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981)
Dir: Desmond Davis
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first, yes it’s overlong, yes the lead hunk is bland (Harry Hamlin), and yes some of it’s galaxy of A-list stars do seem to weigh the film down a bit. Laurence Olivier may have the authority to play Zeus, but he seems far too grand and theatrical for the film, and Ursula Andress as Aphrodite doesn’t seem to have much to do, other than stand there and look decorative in a Grecian dress. Having said all that, it’s still got a great story, and entertaining special effects by the master, Ray Harryhausen. It also beats the pants off it’s 2010 remake. Perseus’s girlfriend, Andromeda (Judi Bowker) is doomed to be sacrificed to the Kraken, and Perseus has to find a way to rescue her. The Stygian Witches (cannibals who live in a cave, with one eye between the lot of them) advise him that he will need the head of the gorgon Medusa. Some films are worth sitting through for just one scene alone, and for me, like the spanking scene in ‘McLintock!’ the showdown with Medusa is well-worth waiting for. It’s creepy, tense, and Medusa herself is a formidable opponent. I’ve seen the remake version with Russian model Natalia Vodianova, and it’s heavy emphasis on CGI (plus having Medusa in a bikini top, which makes her about as scary as an underwear catalogue), and it just doesn’t match it. Although I have seen some argue that the remake shows more sympathy with the original character of Medusa, a beautiful woman cursed with a head of snakes, who turns anyone who looks at her to stone. Even so, the original still wins hands down for me. I loved it when it first came out, and will still watch it when I get a chance.
Dir: Joseph L Mankiewicz
Whole books and films have been made about the making of this hugely expensive epic, the film that teamed Burton and Taylor for the first time. It seems to have a reputation as a bit of a bleedin’ disappointment, yet it’s not. It does have a hackneyed, and somewhat pompous, beginning, with the kind of risible narrator which must have been already out of date when this was made in 1963! And at times I did find myself missing Sid James, Amanda Barrie and Kenneth Williams, who sent the whole thing up beautifully in ‘Carry On Cleo’. As a visual spectacle though it’s still pretty awesome, particularly Cleopatra’s entry into Rome which ranks as one of the great stunning scenes of big cinema. When I first watched this many years ago I was a bit disappointed with Liz Taylor. I must’ve been having an off day, because she’s great. Imperious, witty, sexy and emotional by turn. Apparently when she first saw the finished product, she ran to the ladies’ powder room and was violently sick. But really, she gets the job done fine. I warmed to her from the first scene when she criticised Caesar’s maps for being out of date! Rex Harrison puts in a solid turn as the ageing Caesar, although his early scenes where he’s constantly admonishing Cleo with his “young lady” remarks, I kept expecting him to morph into Professor Higgins! Richard Burton makes a very appealing Mark Antony, although my favourite is Roddy McDowell as Augustus. I don’t really need to say any more than that. This is a film that any film fan needs to watch at least once. If you want to get the full benefit of the lavish scenes though it’s probably best to watch it on a big screen, and not on a small portable dvd player as I did!
COCO BEFORE CHANEL (2009)
Dir: Anne Fontaine
Oh you can keep this one. I don’t even know why I brought it. I hate just about everything about it. Yes, it’s well-made. Yes, it’s well-acted. Yes, if you’re fascinated by Coco then it’s a good look at how she got started. But I still hated it. I think part of the problem for me is that I just can’t warm to Coco Chanel. So she revolutionised women’s clothes. Ho-hum. I still think she was a cold fish, and she ended up dying alone, with everyone around her terrified of the old bag. She was also a Nazi collaborator. It’s going to take more than a few elegant dresses and a bottle of perfume to make me like her. If you’re nuts about fashion and haughty, cold-blooded French women, you’ll love it. Enjoy.
THE CONSTANT HUSBAND (1955)
Dir: Sidney Giliatt
I can’t think of any genre that’s dated quite so horribly as the 1950s English upper middle-class comedy. Sometimes I can quite see why the Angry Young Men were so determined to kick out the likes of Terence Rattigan and co. ‘The Constant Husband’ is by no means the worst I’ve seen of this ilk. If you’re feeling half-awake it can rumble on unobtrusively in the background, but when it’s not being flat and dull, it occasionally rises to the level of mild annoyance. It simply has no zest to it. All the actors are going through the motions, as if they know it’s a waste of time. The plot isn’t bad as plots go. Rex Harrison wakes up in a Welsh seaside boarding-house, with no idea who he is or how he got there. He’s suffering from total amnesia. Gradually, he begins to piece together this life, only to find that he’s weaved a tangled private life, with several wives on the go. Now, as an idea for a comedy, this should be OK, but it needs to be done with a A LOT more panache. It’s hampered too that because of the era in which it was made, it has to tone down any saucy bits so much that they barely exist. I can’t help thinking that Hollywood would have made a damn sight better job of this. Now, don’t get me wrong, I can be as patriotic as the next person, but can you imagine a film like this with Rock Hudson and Doris Day, or Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers, or Bob Hope and Lucille Ball? Yes, see, it would be on a different level entirely. As it is, it’s just dreary and turgid, and we also have to put up with George Cole hamming it up mercilessly as a young Italian.
COUNT DRACULA (1977)
Dir: Philip Saville
For me, this is the definitive Dracula film. Forget that overblown load of old flatulence, ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’, where Gary Oldman mooches around, either looking like Glenn Close, or a lugubrious bloodhound in tinted glasses. No, for my money it’s Louis Jourdain (although Frank Langella in the 1979 version is also well worth a look). It stays extremely close to the book, there are no Hammer-esque liberties taken here, and the cast underplays things nicely. We get so used to seeing hysterical versions of Dracula, where everyone’s hamming it up to the hilt, that it’s nice to see a low-key version for a change. The opening scenes where Jonathan Harker travels by coach up into the Carpathian mountains are laden with menace, and a feeling of impending doom. Unusually too, for a Dracula film, the Brides are shown, not sporting snakes in their hair, and creeping up from under the bed, as in the Keanu Reeves version, but simply marching resolutely, in their white dresses, towards a cowering Harker. With this scene the film pays homage to its Victorian wet dream origins. Harker is the decent, spiffing English chap being seduced against his will by these formidable, exotic foreign ladies. As Stephen King once put it, it’s quite a shame when the Count bursts in and breaks it all up! Pretty Susan Penhaligan also makes a charming Lucy, showing her simply as an exuberant schoolgirl, instead of the hysterical nymphomaniac she’s sometimes shown as. Louis Jourdain got some criticism in his role as the Count, with some feeling he was too … er … bloodless. He’s not. Here Dracula isn’t a tormented romantic soul, or a horrid reptilian creature, he is the refined aristocrat, shut out from a world that has left him behind. Although we see him scaling his castle walls, batlike, and dumping a baby in a bag for his Brides, it is the scene where he brags about his fine notepaper to Harker that sums up the Count for me. In his gloomy, decaying castle, he is still living on past glories, unaware that nobody cares.
COUNTESS DRACULA (1971)
Dir: Peter Sasdy
One of my favourite Hammer efforts. To my disappointment it doesn’t seem to be highly regarded these days, or at least not amongst male reviewers, which astonishes me considering the amount of heaving bosom that is on permanent display. One argued it didn’t contain enough sex and violence (okey-dokey), another argued that he couldn’t find Ingrid Pitt sexy when he knew she could change back into an old hag at any moment. That’s the point you dork!! The film can be best viewed these days as an adult dark fairy-tale about ageing, and trying to hang onto the glories of youth at all costs. Instead of sticking needles into her face and making it freeze up with botox though, the Countess here bathes in the blood of young virgins. Only trouble is, the effects keep wearing off, and she has to keep topping it up (a bit like botox really). And every time she relapses into Old Bag mode she gets uglier and uglier. The magnificent Ingrid Pitt is at her sexiest (in spite of what neurotic New York reviewers may say), and clearly relishes her role as the dastardly Countess Bathory. She is supported by a capable cast, and a location which ranks as one of my favourite castle sets. The scene at the wedding altar is quite shocking the first time you see it.
CRACK IN THE WORLD (1964)
Dir: Andrew Marten
Above-average apocalyptic film. Dana Andrews (whom I will always have a soft spot for, after ‘Night Of The Demon’) plays a dying scientist, who causes mayhem when one of his experiments causes a huge crack to form in the world. Janette Scott, looking very beautiful with her Monroe-esque blonde bob, plays his wife, who is also taken with younger scientist Kieran Moore (it seems we often have to have a troubled threesome in these types of films). The final half-hour is very exciting, and I remember the ending have a big effect on me when I first saw it many years ago.
CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954)
Dir: Jack Arnold
Proof that, even after all these years, a man in a lizard suit can still be quite effective in the scary stakes. A party of explorers are on some remote Amazonian river, which (unbeknown to them) is frequented by a hideous reptilian monster. The scene where the graceful Julia Adams, in a white swimsuit, swims down the river whilst being tracked by the monster below, is still quite unnerving. (I’m not surprised that this was a big influence on Steven Spielburg when he came to make ‘Jaws’ several years later). The feuding bare-chested men back on the boat all looks a bit unintentionally gay these days though.
THE CREEPING TERROR (1964)
Dir: Vic Savage
This has the dubious distinction of being one of the worst films ever made, and I am not going to argue with that one. This film can even make ‘Robot Monster’ (see below) look like a masterpiece, and that’s saying something. Where do I even begin with it? There is a forbidding voiceover which seems to take the place of dialogue much of the time. I assume this was done to give the film some kind of realistic documentary flavour, but instead you find yourself thinking “can’t we just hear the actors?” Of course when you did, you wish you hadn’t. The story is this: a monster from an alien spaceship is out to terrorise the inhabitants of a small American town. How the monster doesn’t reduce them to fits of hysterical laughter instead is one of the great mysteries of the universe. The monster looks like some flea-bitten old rug that has decided to go for a stroll in the countryside, and when it does it strolls VERY VERY SLOWLY. Honestly, you could be the most unfit person on the planet, and you could still easily out-walk this one, and not have to remotely break into a sweat doing so. I find it hard not to call this ‘The Creeping Carpet’. Only watch if you really are a connoisseur of really bad films.
CROOKS IN CLOISTERS (1964)
Dir: Jeremy Summers
Enjoyable vintage Brit comedy, about a hopelessly inept gang of crooks who stage “the world’s smallest train robbery”, and then have to go into hiding. They disguise themselves as monks on a Cornish island (as you do). A pretty endearing and comical holy order they make, particularly considering they include Barbara Windsor as Brother Bikini (she does a pretty nifty jive in her monk’s habit too). A nice bit of escapism comedy, which should be better available than it is.
CRY OF THE BANSHEE (1970)
Dir: Gordon Hessler
Gloomy horror from 1970, which has one saving grace … Vincent Price, who seems to revisit his Matthew Hopkins role, but without the same success. In folklore, a banshee was a wailing spirit, of an old woman or a witch, who predicted death when she was heard. In this film it’s a rabid dog. It scarcely seems to matter, as the film’s not much cop anyway. The peculiar opening credits set the tone, with the trippy Terry Gilliam artwork. And then we’re in the 16th century. Price is a ruthless man, ruling his area with an iron hand. Punishments are meted out severely. A woman is whipped through the village, and put in the stocks. A very young brother and sister appear in front of Price, and end up killed, when the sister resists his advances. I feel like I’m running out of the will to live writing up this plot. Rape seems to feature overpoweringly in this film. You could argue that was the time it was set, more like the time it was made! There’s too much of frightened women having their bodices torn off, and men acting like apes. Sorry to sound like Mary Whitehouse, but there you go. I got fed up with it. TRIVIA CORNER: the title of this film apparently was the inspiration for Siouxsie And The Banshees when naming themselves. Something good came out of it then.
A CUCKOO IN THE NEST (1933)
Dir: Tom Walls
Film based on an Aldwych farce from 1933. Being over 80 years old, naturally it has dated, but it also has a curiosity value. It’s mainly watchable these days for Ralph Lynn, a monocle-wearing comic actor who specialised in this sort of thing. He has a great deal of bumbling charm. The farce centres around two old friends (Lynn, and Yvonne Arnaud), who are forced to spend the night at the same hotel, and if the truth got out, a huge scandal would ensue. The plot is nonsensical to modern eyes, which can make it exasperating. The timing can also feel painfully longwinded, and there are far too many “idiotic yokels” in the cast, but it’s heart’s in the right place. It was misguidedly remade in 1954 as ‘Fast And Loose’. Even in the strait-laced early 1950s it must have seen lamentably innocent (Kay Kendall causes one man to almost have a seizure by appearing in the kind of flouncy nightgown which is about as revealing as a floor-length thick cardigan). It doesn’t have the charm of the original.
CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR (1968)
Dir: Vernon Sewell
British horror from 1968, which these days is largely of interest for seeing Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff in the same film. Other than that, there’s not really very much to recommend it. Mark Eden plays Bob Manning, who drives into the countryside in search of his missing brother. There he winds up at a country house which is holding it’s annual celebration of a witch-burning. It’s all a bit hackneyed, but there was a lot of this kind of stuff about in the late 1960s/early 70s (in films and books I mean, I can’t speak for real life, though I have heard rumours doncha know). He finds himself watching bemused as some “wild young things” hold a sort of swinging rave, which largely seems to involve two girls having a paint fight. Boris Karloff was 81 when this film was made, and not in the best of health at all, spending the film confined to a wheelchair, but he really is the only reason to spend time on this. Other than that, the pace moves at a plod, and it’s all rather uninspired.
THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)
Dir: Terence Fisher
Hammer at its very best. A colourful, elegant, fast-moving adaptation of the Frankenstein legend, with the splendid Peter Cushing plays the Baron. The film opens with him about to be sent to the guillotine for murder, and he decides to recount to a priest the process of how he got there. Melvyn Hayes plays the Baron as a young, precocious boy, and Cushing takes over the role as an adult. I know you’ve probably read heaps of praise about Cushing’s talents as an actor, but they really are deserved. He wasn’t just a a gifted actor, who had the knack to make any film he appeared in watcheable, he was also one of the most nicest. Even here, when he’s playing an outright psychopath, he still manages to bring charm to the role. And without that it would be hard to see how the women would fall for him as much as they do! Hazel Court (absolutely mistress of the magnificent art of bosom-heaving) plays his fiancee. She doesn’t have much to do, other than look beautiful in crinoline dresses, but she does what she can with the role. Christopher Lee is almost unrecognisable as the Monster. The original make-up, made famous by Boris Karloff in the early 1930s, was still in copyright, so Hammer had to do their own version. By all accounts, the other actors found Lee’s make-up so revolting that he had to take his lunches alone! The film got panned by the critics when it was initially released, branded as gratuitous and nasty. But it proved to be a smash-hit, and set Hammer on their long, lucrative horror career. The scene where the Baron and his tutor first bring a living creature (a dog) back to life is particularly well-done. It still ranks as one of my favourite versions of the Frankenstein tale.
CURSE OF THE MUMMY (1970)
Why do people keep trying to film Bram Stoker’s ‘The Jewel Of The Seven Stars’? It never works. The story is pretty hackneyed, and would defy even the most brilliant director to make something of it. This one was part of Thames TV’s ‘Mystery and Imagination’ series, aired in 1970. Patrick Mower plays an Edwardian doctor, called out in the middle of the night, to attend an archaeologist (Graham Crowden), who has collapsed. It turns out the prof is an Egyptologist, obsessed with bringing back to life an evil old queen, whose mummified body he keeps in the house. And wouldn’t you just know it, his unspeakably annoying daughter (Isobel Black) bears a strong resemblance to her! Hammer tried this story (‘Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb’), it didn’t work, and in 1980 Charlton Heston tried it (‘The Awakening’), it didn’t work. I hope no one else gets any bright ideas about it. Some plots are best left forgotten.
THE DAMNED (1963)
Dir: Joseph Losey
Released as ‘These Are The Damned’. Unusual Hammer outing from 1963, which met with indifference on release, but which has since grown in stature. Oliver Reed plays King, the leader of a gang of thugs, who terrorise the seaside town of Weymouth (ah, the good old days, when juvenile delinquency was unheard of!). He has a bit of an unhealthy attachment to his sister Joan (an annoying Shirley Anne Field). Joan is rescued by a visiting American (Carey McDonald), who whisks her away on his boat up the Dorset coast. King pursues them, and before they know it they find they are at a top secret clifftop scientific base. Hidden away at the base are 9 radioactive children, who are being prepared as some sort of chosen tribe for when nuclear war breaks out. I was expecting to enjoy this film far more than I did. I think part of the problem was that at times the pace felt absolutely glacial, we spend far too long scene-setting before we get to the base, and frankly, I couldn’t care less about Joan and her problems. Having said that though, the ending gets under your skin, and will leave you stunned for a moment.
DANCE WITH A STRANGER (1985)
Dir: Mike Newell
Very well-made biopic about Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Platinum-haired Ruth (Miranda Richardson) was a nightclub hostess in 1950s London, who had a tempestuous affair with posh young motor-racing fanatic David Blakely (Rupert Everett). Things went pear-shaped when Ruth found herself pregnant, but by that time the unbreachable class divide between them had made the relationship cool. Having lost her job, and then miscarried the baby, a desperate Ruth gunned down Blakely outside a London pub one Easter weekend. Miranda Richardson is excellent as Ruth. Film critic Pauline Kael once sniped “she never stops ACTING”. I think I see what she means, although it’s a bizarre criticism to make about someone appearing in a film! The thing is that Ruth, with her put-on posh BBC-style accent, would have spent most of her life putting on a front, and that seems to be how Miranda plays her. Particularly in the first part of the film, where Blakely is mesmerised by Ruth’s clipped voice (“do join us Mr Blakely”), blonde hair and swirly, many-petticoated dresses. Ian Holm puts in a good turn in the thankless role of Ruth’s devoted admirer, Des Cussen. And the whole world of seedy, mock-glam 1950s private drinking-clubs is well captured. Curiously, I watched this film many years ago in the company of two women, both of whom were utterly scathing about Ruth. “She had 2 men on the go!” “She didn’t reply to her little boy, she was a lousy mother, she deserved to hang”. Blimey. Sisterhood eh? I hope younger generations are more sympathetic to her.
Dir: Clare Beavan
Biopic of the author Daphne duMaurier. For me, it’s another of those “well it’s good BUT …” films. I’ve heard women praise it for its realistic portrayal of a lesbian relationship for once (admittedly rare in films), and so I hesitate to slate it. I think the problem for me is the character of Daphne herself. She comes across as a moody, self-obsessed woman, sulky, and indifferent to the feelings of those close to her. The tone is set at the very beginning of the film when her husband is trying to get intimate with her after a long time apart, and the moody cow says “I’ve been thinking about Daddy”. Pretty much a passion-killer right there. She’s a grown, married woman, with children, and yet she’s still childishly obsessed with her father! To be fair, the other characters in the film get pretty brassed off with Daphne’s self-absorption too, and a couple of times she gets castigated for it. This might well be the problem I’ve always had with this author. I read ‘Rebecca’ many years ago, and I loved it, and yet at the same time I found it cold and annoyingly frigid, in a very English middle-class way. I’m probably being unfair, I think du Maurier was a more interesting and complex character than that. I do think the film is very much worth seeing, but Daphne does need shaking at times.
DARK VICTORY (1939)
Dir: Edmund Goulding
I adored this film when I was young, I thought Bette Davis was the epitome of cool, with her stylish clothes, and her brisk, confident mannerisms. These days I just find her annoying. For me personally, her films haven’t aged as well as those of her arch-rival Joan Crawford, whom I revere even more. Bette’s cut-glass voice grates, and I find her too brittle. HAVING SAID ALL THAT, this is still a fine tearjerker of a film. Davis plays Judith Traherne, a pampered horse-riding socialite, whose world is torn apart when she is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. Naturally this being vintage Hollywood, our heroine doesn’t get to really suffer until the final scenes when her eyesight fades, and then Bette puts in the mother of all hanky-wringing death scenes. Humphrey Bogart mangles an Irish accent as her plain-speaking stable-hand, and Ronald Reagun wanders in and out the film as a young man who is permanently drunk.
Dir: Michael Relph
By the late 1950s Harry Secombe had earned himself a place as a national treasure by his appearances in the hugely-popular Goon Show radio series. ‘Davy’ was an attempt to propel him into a film career, but it didn’t really work. Although we get to hear Harry singing, and doing some comedy, the rest of the film has him acting rather mournfully, and not in the larger-than-life persona most people knew. The film centres around the Mad Morgans, a family vaudeville act. Davy (Secombe) is the most talented of the group, and ructions occur when it looks as though he might be lured away by the Royal Opera House. The Mad Morgans’ slapstick routine is the highlight of the film, and it does brings a smile to the face. The rest of the plot though is a dreary, overly-talky backstage drama, with lots of relationship angst which it is frankly impossible to care about. There is also an annoying little kid who keeps popping up and slaughtering the pace even further, even managing to get himself stuck up some scenery at one point. The film is largely of interest now for seeing the dying days of the music hall. Television was quickly going to put paid to the likes of the Mad Morgans, which (from the benefit of now) makes the ending rather more downbeat than they clearly planned. Also of interest for looking out for some familiar faces in small bit roles. Joan Sims and Liz Fraser as tea-ladies, Kenneth Connor as a new comedian, and Bernard Cribbins (glimpsed fleetingly) as a stage-hand. There is also a brief turn by Clarkson Rose, who, from what I’ve read, was one of the greatest pantomime dames ever. ADDENDUM: whilst watching this, I read up on Wikipedia about Susan Shaw, who plays Gwen. She was a Rank starlet (like Joan Collins). Sadly, unlike Joan, she wasn’t to have a successful career. She had a drink problem, which put paid to her acting in 1963. When she died, of cirrhosis of the liver, Rank paid for her funeral. She briefly shines in this film during the slapstick routine, when she comes across endearingly like Lucille Ball. She also had a fantastic pair of legs.
THE DAY AFTER (1983)
Dir: Edward Hume
I usually regard this as the American version of ‘Threads’, about what would happen if America came under nuclear attack. Watching this again after so many years, it gave me heebie-jeebies even more than it did back then! It’s surprisingly hard-hitting. Yes I know, it’s about a nuclear war, it’s bound to be hard-hitting, but we get so used to Hollywood sanitising everything, that a film like this (which was made for television) can come as a shock. The footage of the attack is mesmerising, and the shots of the satanic-looking mushroom-shaped clouds in the background are deeply unsettling. Two other parts stand out, as something we’re not used to in American movies. One is the preacher trying desperately (and angrily) to still believe in a merciful God, as his congregation pick their way through the wreckage. Plus the shell-shocked people listening to the President’s out-of-touch broadcast. Total belief in God and the President are very American things, so to see this on an American film is quite something, particularly one from the 1980s. From what I read on Wikipedia, this film did have an effect on the powers-that-be. President Reagan found it deeply depressing, and it changed his policy on nuclear war. Four years later it was even shown on Soviet television. I have a horrible feeling that modern day leaders wouldn’t be quite so open-minded. I really hope I’m wrong on that one.
THE DAY OF THE JACKAL (1973)
Dir: Fred Zinnemann
The decision to cast Edward Fox as a one-man killing-machine, a ruthless hired assassin, must have stunned a few people when this film was made in the 1960s. Fox is best known as the actor who usually plays very aristocratic roles, and is arguably most famous for his portrayal of King Edward VIII in the TV series ‘Edward And Mrs Simpson’ (for which he rightly won cartloads of awards), but he does a pretty splendid job here. Something about that icy upper-class Englishness works so well in his playing of an unfeeling psychopath. Apparently the director was hoping that the audience would find the cuddly French police inspector the fascinating character, and was stunned when people related to the Jackal instead! I wouldn’t go so far as to say we were rooting for him, but certainly we are fascinated to see just how long he can stay one step ahead of the police as he leads them on a merry dance across Europe. There is a scene on the French/Italian border, when the Jackal hears from his “employers” that the police are onto him and they’re effectively cancelling his contract. The Jackal is faced (literally) with two roads to take. One, to disappear into Italy, the other, to carry on with the job and head up to Paris. He takes the latter option, leaving us in no doubt that he’s not in the job for the money, but because he actually enjoys it. A host of familiar British actors pop up in secondary roles, including comedy actor Anton Rodgers is a pick-up in a Turkish bath, and Edward Hardwicke – better known these days as Dr Watson to Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes – makes a fleeting appearance at the end. A first-class thriller, and one which keeps you enthralled until the very final scene. The misguided remake, starring Bruce Willis, isn’t fit to lick its boots.
THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (1962)
Dir: Steve Sekely
I loved this film when I was a kid, but when I went to watch it again very recently (full-length version is available on YouTube), it was a heck of a struggle. I thought I’d watch it again for the lighthouse scenes (lighthouses always fascinate me), but the whisky-swilling self-pitying jerk and his nervy wife got me down immediately. The IDEA is still scary, that due to a meteor shower large killer plants are now stalking the Earth, where most of the population has been struck blind, but John Wyndham’s classic novel now feels badly mangled in this version. Howard Keel (never the most exciting of actors) is the lump of wood who plays main male lead. In the book he had a beautiful woman called Jocelyn as his sidekick. Here in this film she has inexplicably been turned into a perky little girl called Susan (!). Quite why they did that baffles me. The film has dated horribly in parts. For instance, when the drunken prisoners descend into the French chateau, Susan runs to Keel for help, shouting “they’re making the women DANCE with them!” Oh crikey. And the compulsory tacked-on Christian god-botherer stuff at the end is very much of its time (although even in 1962 it must have been outstaying its welcome). Having said all that, the sinister noise the plants make when they move still gives a shudder, and I still feel sorry for the little greenhouse-keeper at the beginning, who is the first victim of the triffids. Interestingly, reading the YouTube comments on this film, a couple of plot-holes were pointed out. Most glaringly, that only half the planet would have been struck blind by the meteors (the other half being in daylight), and if sea-water destroys the triffids, how did the plants manage to run amok on the lighthouse island, where the sea-water would have constantly drenched the rocks? Don’t say YouTube can never teach you anything.
THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE (1961)
Dir: Val Guest
I once did a review of this for Amazon (back in the days when I did such things), and described it as one of the best British thrillers ever. I stand by that. My favourite character in it is Leo McKern (Rumpole), playing a hard-nosed newspaper reporter who stumbles upon the biggest, and most unwelcome, story of his career. It turns out that a succession of nuclear blasts has caused the Earth to get kicked off its orbit, and we are now – gulp! – heading towards the Sun!! Yes, the story is probably preposterous, but go with it, as this is an exciting, tightly-paced adventure. A lot of the action centres around the real-life ‘Daily Express’ offices, starring the REAL editor, Arthur Christiansen. It’s a fascinating look at Real Journalism, before it all became tainted by phone-hacking, turning into a legal form of blackmail instead. There is one part where Arthur, on hearing the worst, advises his staff to “try and keep it upbeat, everything’s going to be alright”. That wouldn’t happen now. It would be “WE ARE DOOMED!” emblazoned everywhere. There is a disturbing montage of scenes showing the weather going haywire all over the world, which strikes a particular chord in these days of Global Weirding. Also look out for a brief sighting of Michael Caine as a traffic cop. You’d recognise that voice anywhere.
DAY THE WORLD ENDED (1955)
Dir: Roger Corman
I saw this many many years ago when it was shown late one night, and I sneered my head off at it, at the cheapness of it, at the hackneyed characters, at the way the women stay elegantly gowned and coiffed in a post-apocalyptic world. And yet, watching it again now, I enjoyed it. It’s a Roger Corman production from 1955, about a small bunch of survivors at a ranch-house in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear war. I found the story taut and engaging, and although the characters seem a bit cardboard cut-out at times (the brassy blonde stripper, the old man with his moonshine, the Bible-bashing father), it still kept me absorbed. Worth seeking out if you’re a fan of post-apocalypse scenarios.
DEAD BIRDS (2004)
Dir: Alex Turner
From what I vaguely recall this is set during the American Civil War. It begins with a bank robbery in a small town. The thieves then abscond to a remote, abandoned farmhouse, and it’s there that their troubles really start. I didn’t like this film. There’s too much time spent in confusing, darkened rooms, and some nonsense about demons or ghostly children (I can’t be too sure to be honest). The characters are all thoroughly dislikeable, which makes me care not one jot what happens to them. A Twitter chum once tried to explain ‘Cabin Fever’ to me, along the lines that dislikeable characters are the reason for the plot (or something). He’s probably right, but I still struggle with films where there’s no one I care about or am interested in. Anyway, sorry to be vague, but I watched it once several years ago, and that’s all I can remember about it.
DEAD END (2003)
Dir: Jean-Baptiste Andrea
Someone once tried to tell me that this was far more frightening than ‘Ghostwatch’. Pshaw! It’s a great idea for a story, of that there is no doubt. A family driving home for Christmas find themselves on a remote road, from which they can never get off, and which is haunted by creepy spectres. So far so good. I did find it absorbing when I watched it, but it didn’t make enough of an impact for me to come back to at any time since. There is a bit where someone’s brains literally fall out of their head, and which I can still recall with unwelcome clarity now.
DEATH LINE (1972)
Dir: Gary Sherman
Cult Brit horror film from the early 1970s, in which Donald Pleasence (clearly enjoying himself enormously) plays a sardonic police officer investigating the disappearances and murders of various people at Russell Square tube station. The Underground – particularly when it’s sparsely populated late at night – naturally lends itself to an eerie atmosphere, and nowhere better than here. I don’t think it’s giving away any spoilers to reveal that the murders are being committed by the last of a tribe of underground cannibals, who have been living in the tunnels since the line was dug out in the 19th century. Pleasence really makes this film, and I can’t help feeling somebody should have given his character more films to appear in. When he’s not busy drinking tea and filling in his pools coupon he gradually unravels the gruesome mystery lying beneath the streets of London. Released in the US under the title ‘Raw Meat’. TRIVIA CORNER: there is currently an urban myth circulating that a race of primitive cannibals haunts the London Underground. Derek Acorah even came out with it when ‘Most Haunted’ investigated Aldwych tube station (now disused). In fact ‘Deathline’ was actually filmed at Aldwych, not Russell Square where it is set.
DEATH ON THE NILE (1978)
Dir: John Guillermin
Probably my favourite of all the big screen Agatha Christie adaptations. Exotic locations, and an entertaining all-star cast make it well worth a couple of hours of your time. The wonderful Peter Ustinov makes an affable Hercule Poirot, even if he can’t quite eclipse David Suchet’s impeccable command of the role. There is also the dream cinematic pairing of Bette Davis and Maggie Smith who bicker magnificently together as a kleptomaniac old lady and her acerbic companion. The show-stealer for me though is Angela Lansbury, who camps it up marvellously as Salome Otterbourne, a drunken lady novelist who wafts around in some eye-boggling Gloria Swanson-style creations. (Watch out for her tipsy tango with David Niven). I suspect all female writers have a secret hankering to be Salome Otterbourne on the quiet. Another cocktail barman! TRIVIA CORNER: I read a rumour somewhere that movie moguls weren’t happy with the title, believing that the public wouldn’t want to see a film with the word ‘death’ in the title. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Dir: Felix E Feist
Just to prove that apocalyptic films about earthquakes and tsunami’s are nothing new, ‘Deluge’ is one of the first apocalyptic films ever, made in 1933. It’s pretty creaky to be honest, and the special effects look more like the washing-machine’s sprung a leak, than anything on an end-of-the-world scale of terrifying. It can also be unintentionally funny, such as “the entire west coast of America has been destroyed, but there’s no reason to panic”. (So when would you say was a good time to panic then?) It’s probably only of interest to serious film buffs, who want to see just where the earthquakes-running-out-of-control scenario first started.
DEMENTIA 13 (1963)
Dir: Francis Ford Coppola
The early 1960s produced some highly strange results in low-budget cinema. The huge success of ‘Psycho’ led Roger Corman and Francis Ford Coppola to emulate it with this cold little number. A bickering married couple are out rowing a boat late one night. The husband gets so stressed by their quarrel he has a heart-attack. His wife covers up his death, and heads off to the old ancestral pile over in Ireland, where she finds a dreary family wittering on about some little girl who died years before. I’ve read someone comparing this film to ‘The Innocents’ (see below), and I guess it does indeed have the same black-and-white dreamlike feel at times, although ‘The Innocents’ was by far and away in a superior league of its own. I personally didn’t find the story at all involving, and as with ‘Carnival Of Souls’ (see above) I found the dopey, lethargic feel to much of the acting somewhat alienating. Check out the scene where Louise arrives in Ireland. It contains the weirdest-sounding airport announcer ever. WTF was all that about??
DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS (1954)
Dir: David MacDonald
Absolutely cheap-as-chips British sci-fi from 1954, which – largely because of it’s sheer awfulness – has become a cult classic. The setting: a small hotel in the Scottish Highlands in the depths of winter. Not much going on you might think. WRONG! There’s an escaped convict on the run, a top London fashion model renting out one of the rooms, and stone me, if a flying saucer doesn’t go and land in the garden. Out steps Nyah, an incredibly posh-speaking alien clad in black hotpants, long vinyl cape and matching skull-cap. Nyah promptly starts issuing stern orders to everyone, like an intergalactic Margaret Thatcher, and says that she’s here to round up the men to take back to Mars for breeding purposes. Instead of jumping at the chance to head off with this dominatrix figure, the men (who frankly look a pretty sorry lot for breeding purposes) get mildly affronted. There is a lot wrong with this film of course, but in it’s own way it has a lot of charm. I liked the setting. Patricia Laffan manages admirably to keep a straight face in her ludicrous outfit. Hazel Court (who went on to become a Hammer stalwart) is charming as the model. And naturally, because the film is set in Scotland, John Laurie is also on hand. Based on a stage play (and it shows), Devil Girl was apparently made in just 3 weeks. The budget was so small that no retakes were allowed. All of which gives it a fascinating feel of an early TV play. I could have done without the escaped convict plot, which is just a drag, but other than that I’m quite fond of it. An interesting relic from a time when talk of intergalactic breeding and sexy aliens didn’t reduce the characters to bawdy jokes and laughs. It’s all played remarkably straight. Hazel Court had fond memories of making the film, and said that everyone enjoyed it. TRIVIA CORNER: Patricia Laffan said she often had people ringing her up in her London flat, after the release of the film, wanting to speak to “Devil Girl”. Which must have been a bit trying. She said her costume was hellishly uncomfortable.
THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968)
Dir: Terence Fisher
Well-made and highly-regarded pic of Dennis Wheatley’s most famous novel, and a feather in the cap of Hammer films. Full marks to them for keeping the 1920s vintage, and not updating it to the Swinging Sixties of the time. Christopher Lee is the Duc de Richleau, an aristocrat who is concerned that a young friend, Simon (Patrick Mower) has become involved with a cult of devil-worshippers, and sets out to rescue him. All these years on it’s still a very watcheable little number. Of particular note are the scenes of the Sabbat – when the Devil puts in an appearance it still packs a surprising punch – and the night in the pentagram. Charles Gray is superb as the villainous Mocata, head of the cult. Niki Arrighi is Tanith, a beautiful damsel-in-distress. The loveable Paul Eddington does his affable guy routine. Look out for Gwen Frangcon-Davies as a snooty Satanist. Her withering “monsieur” and disdainful flick of her cigarillo when she’s introduced to a man without an aristocratic title is wonderful. TRIVIA CORNER (1): I saw an interview with Christopher Lee once where he said he hoped one day there would be a remake, as modern special effects could do wonders with the night in the pentagram sequence. Maybe. These days I often find special effects make things LESS scary not more so. TRIVIA CORNER (2): American distributors weren’t happy with the title, as they thought ‘The Devil Rides Out’ sounds like a Western! That conjures up some interesting ideas.
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (2006)
Dir: David Frankel
I admit this isn’t the sort of film I normally go for, chicklit’s not really my thing, but I’d heard rave reviews of Meryl Streep in full snarling mode, and I wanted to see it for myself. There is no doubt whatsoever that she is the best thing about this film, and without her in it I doubt I would have ever bothered with it. But praise should also go to Emily Blunt, as her bitchy, snooty assistant (“you eat carbs for god’s sake!”). Streep apparently got the idea for speaking in a low-key style from watching Clint Eastwood in the ‘Dirty Harry’ films, and certainly I don’t think her character would have worked anywhere near as well if she’d portrayed her as a screaming harridan. Her icy stare and necklace-fiddling “that’s all” will ring a bell with anyone who’s ever had a scary female boss.
DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971)
Dir: Guy Hamilton
A pretty piss-poor entry in the Bond canon, and proof that the rot most definitely didn’t set in with Roger Moore (in fact, ‘Live And Let Die’ is vastly superior in every way to this one). Connery is looking a bit flabby round the edges, and is going through the motions (a Twitter pal has been known to make biting remarks about his wig and corset). Charles Gray, an actor I normally like immensely (mainly for his role as Mycroft Holmes in the Jeremy Brett/Sherlock series, and as Morcata in ‘The Devil Rides Out’), plays Blofeld, but with none of the hissing class of Donald Pleasance. In fact, this cartoon Blofeld would be more at home in an Austin Powers movie. We have Blofeld and his double, we have Blofeld in drag, for pity’s sake. And the silly, childish voice-changing machine … pah! I’ve seen praise heaped on the camp pair of gay assassins, who are quite fun, but the whole thing is laid on with a trowel, and they feel like rejected characters from ‘Little Britain’. Jill St John adds some desperately-needed class to the whole thing (although her character seems to change halfway through the film, going from sassy femme fatale in the first half, to pathetic gormless Miss Goodnight-clone in the second). There is a bit where Bond gets trapped in a coffin as it is fed into a crematorium, which haunts me every time I see it, but the really scary part is the Las Vegas stand-up comedian, a grizzled runt of a man, flanked by two showgirls, who boasts he’s been doing the same act for 40 years … dear God. Someone on a film website wrote that the Las Vegas setting is what really kills DAF, and I’m not arguing. It just doesn’t seem to work at all as a Bond setting. Having said all that, any Bond film is better than none, and my complaints don’t stop me watching DAF when it comes round on TV.
Dir: Oliver Hirschbiegel
It’s really not that bad. I just wanted to make that clear from the off. This film got absolutely slated on release, and I remember having bad vibes about it myself, simply because biopics about modern royals tend to be pretty atrocious as a rule. Everyone is so afraid of offending anybody that they usually turn out to be bland, syrupy hagiographies, which you would have to be a pretty vacuous sentimental royalist to enjoy. I’m pleased to say this one is not like that. In fact, there were times watching it when I forgot it was about Princess Diana at all, and thought it was a simply a doomed romance between a wealthy, pampered Englishwoman and a hardworking Pakistani doctor. The film covers the last 2 years of the life of the Princess of Wales, most particularly her affair with heart-surgeon Dr Hasnat Khan, who really was Diana’s great love in the 90s. I swear Dodi was simply a holiday romance, on the rebound from Hasnat. I suspect where some don’t like it is that it presents Diana as a very complex human being. We get a bit about her landmines crusade, but on the whole it shows the emotional complexity of the woman. There still seems to be a school of thought that Diana must be portrayed as a saint, or we will rip your film/book/whatever to shreds, usually accompanied by a mawkish cry of “think about the boys!” (“the boys” are now grown men in their 30s by the way). As a film about a love story which never really stood a chance, it is good. Also the rest of the royals are left out, and the film concentrates on Diana, so we don’t get all the Buckingham Palace Reaction stuff that usually clogs up most modern royal films. Naomi Watts is very talented, but she has a bit of a thankless task as Diana, as she has to constantly avoid the trap of doing an impersonation of her. The script also isn’t anywhere near as hackneyed as I was expecting. As I said, it’s really not that bad. ADDENDUM: I watched this again recently, and am still flummoxed as to the amount of vitriol it’s incurred. As a doomed love-story it works very well, and the ending is very moving. The only thing I can gather as to why it’s hated is that people were expecting a complete hagiography of Diana, focussing on her good works and not her emotional life. I hope it gets fairer treatment in the future.
DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002)
Dir: Lee Tamahori
Final outing from my least favourite Bond, Pierce Brosnan. Once again, I’m in the minority, but I can’t help it, I just didn’t warm to him. The film itself isn’t popular, relying overly much on special effects. Brosnan, for me, has all the wit and charm of Mel Gibson (not good). At the beginning of the film he is imprisoned in North Korea, and as one caustic reviewer put it, he comes out fatter than he went in. He’s also sporting long hair and a beard, as though he’s been marooned on a desert island for several years (comparisons have been made to Michael Palin’s “It’s!” character from Monty Python). At least this does have a moderately interesting villain in the brattish Toby Stephens, although I can’t help feeling he would have made a better – if somewhat quirky – Bond than Brosnan did. All topped off by a bizarre theme tune from Madonna, which was so disjointed in parts that I thought my dvd was scratched.
DIE DIE MY DARLING! (1965)
Dir: Silvio Narizzano
With a title like that, this can only be from the mid-1960s. Made by Hammer, and starring the legendary Tallulah Bankhead, this is more of value as a curiosity than for it’s merits as a film. Stefanie Powers is a young American girl, who, whilst in England, decides to pay a visit on her late boyfriend’s mother. When she gets there, she finds Mrs Trefoyle is a Bible-thumping religious fanatic, who doesn’t seem too keen on Stefanie leaving again. The problem the film has is that I’m never entirely sure how seriously we’re meant to be taking it. The jaunty opening credits persist into the movie, and that, combined with some witty moments, can make it feel more like a black comedy. Even sporting scraped back hair, a bare face, and a severe black dress, Tallulah doesn’t seem scary enough. In fact, it can feel like an old ‘Avengers’ episode. There are other familiar faces on-board, including Peter Vaughan, Donald Sutherland, and Yootha Joyce (whom I didn’t recognise at first, in her brunette state). Mrs Trefoyle’s house is great though, even if it does feel like it belongs more in the American Deep South, than the English countryside. Released in Britain under the title ‘Fanatic’.
DON’T LOOK NOW (1973)
Dir: Nichola Roeg
This film is hugely regarded, I mean HUGELY. It usually crops up on the lists of the top best horror/supernatural films of all time. Based on a novella by Daphne du Maurier, it stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as grieving parents. who have recently lost their daughter in a drowning accident. They take themselves off for a holiday in Venice in winter-time, where they start being hassled by two old mediums, and Donald keeps catching fleeting glimpses of a little figure in a red coat, who reminds him of his deceased daughter. Yes, Donald Sutherland is always splendid, yes, out-of-season Venice is very atmospheric, and yes, the twist at the end (if you’re one of the few left on the planet who doesn’t know about it) is reasonably good, but it’s not a film I’m greatly fond of. Part of the problem for me is the two batty old dears. I just find them irritating, and there’s one scene, where they seem to stand and laugh hysterically at nothing, which I simply don’t get, even though I’ve seen this film no end of times. Plus the worthy love-making scene feels oddly out of place. I’ve seen someone describe it as like having the 1970s Joy Of Sex book suddenly plonked down in the middle of the film. I don’t object to explicit sex scenes in films, but I do object to ones that make me feel like a seedy voyeur to an intimate act between a loving couple. This is one of those venerated films I have to be a philistine about. I can see why people respect it, but I find it’s relentless moodiness depressing, and most of the characters (apart from dear Donald) annoying.
DON’T TALK TO STRANGE MEN (1962)
This is one of those films that I really like, but couldn’t for the life of me tell you why. It’s a (very) low-budget little Brit thriller from the late 1950s, which possibly comes across more as an extended public information film than anything else. The acting is terribly English and of the period, the story is pretty basic to say the least (don’t trust strange men who try and chat you up on the phone), and the whole thing is incredibly worthy. And yet I don’t know, it has a lot of innocent charm, and there are some surprisingly very eerie parts to it. Noticeably at the beginning, when we get shots of a woman walking down a nocturnal street, accompanied by a howling wind soundtrack. Likewise the part where Our Damsel In Distress is waiting for her mysterious boyfriend to meet her down a remote country lane, again complete with howling wind soundtrack. The only really familiar face is Dandy Nichols (most famous now as Alf Garnett’s longsuffering wife), who practically steals the show as a no-nonsense bus-conductress. I’m not going to pretend this is a great film, as that would be silly, but I like it.
DOUBLE BUNK (1961)
Dir: C Pennington-Richards
A lot of fun this, even if it has dated quite badly in parts. The wonderful Ian Carmichael plays a newly-wed who can’t afford to buy a house (some things haven’t changed then), so he decides to buy a leaky old houseboat instead. All sorts of comic, slapstick mayhem ensue, which is great fun. He and the wife (Janette Scott) then decide to take a little sailing-holiday, with Sid James and Liz Frazer on board. More comic mayhem. It’s a very undemanding film. The characters are all likeable, and it should leave you smiling. Liz is sexy in her formidably upholstered bikini, and Janette Scott is feisty and great fun as Carmichael’s longsuffering bride. The scene where she watches, perplexed, as Sid’s grizzled face glides serenely past the porthole, still makes me smile when I think about it. The marvellous Irene Handl appears in one scene as the wife of the former owner, severely traumatised by boat living!
Dir: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Exceptional drama chronicling the final days of Third Reich. Every time I see this I’m struck by just how good this is. All the acting is absolutely superb, and the anarchic claustrophobia of life in Hitler’s bunker is brilliantly conveyed. The role of Hitler was given to Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, after it was reputedly shunned by German actors. A role like this must be a dream for many actors, and Ganz walks away with it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a faultless portrayal of the Fuhrer (Robert Carlyle’s version in the TV film ‘Hitler: The Rise Of Evil’ is the only other one that comes close). Ganz brings out the full sickness and insanity of Hitler’s last days. I also want to mention Corinna Harfouch as Magda Goebbels, who has an immensely difficult part in trying to portray as human a woman who would kill her six children, because she didn’t want them to live in a world “without National Socialism”. THAT scene (as I always think of it) when she administers lethal drugs to the sleeping infants is done with a cool briskness that lingers in the memory. I’m also fascinated by Eva Braun (Julianne Kohler). Here she is portrayed as a sort of Kathryn Howard figure, giddily obsessed with clothes, fame and being the Fuhrer’s wife, even if she has to pay for it with her life. ‘Downfall’ is one of those films that seems to have entered the language. These days, when we see a politician who is getting too big for their boots, or becoming fanatical, ‘Downfall’ is often cited.
Dir: Tod Browning
Hugely regarded 1931 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel, and starring the splendid Bela Lugosi. It has to be said that it hasn’t aged well though. It can feel stagey, and the acting at times is painfully ponderous. Yet it is worth watching for Lugosi’s performance, and for the opening 20 minutes, largely set at the Count’s castle. The scene where the predatory Brides creep towards Harker through a doorway is sheer gothic poetry. I can recommend it just for that bit alone.
Dir: Terence Fisher
The first of the classic Hammer Horror films, and an elegant little number it is too. It’s perhaps hard now to see the huge impact this film had at the time it was released in 1958, but it effectively launched Hammer onto it’s successful career in the horror market, and rejuvenated British cinema. Compared to other Hammer variants it sticks fairly close to Bram Stoker’s novel, although here Jonathan Harker (Michael Gough) isn’t the innocent – the lamb to the slaughter – of the original story, but fully aware of the Count’s crimes. Christopher Lee gives a memorable performance as Drac. Watching it again recently I was struck by how brisk his interpretation of the character is. Almost businesslike. Whereas Bela Lugosi had drawled sensuously over his introduction (‘I am Drac-u-la”), Lee introduces himself in a no-nonsense way, stepping briskly down the castle steps, as though he’s a busy man and hasn’t time to waste (which I suppose is true!). I love the sets too, showcasing Hammer’s meticulous attention to detail. I have a Twitter pal who says this is his very favourite of all Dracula films, I personally wouldn’t go quite that far (I have a soft spot for the BBC’s Louis Jourdan version), but it is an elegantly-crafted film with its share of creepy moments.
TV adaptation from 1967, starring Denholm Elliott in the title role. It was part of the Thames TV ‘Mysteries And Imagination’ series. Shot in black-and-white, and hampered slightly by being studio-bound (particularly the outside shots), and yet it’s a creditable effort. It dispenses with the early Transylvanian scenes, and combines the characters of Harker and Renfield, so that it is Harker who is banged up in a straitjacket, gibbering about his “master”. We get a flashback as to how he ended up in this state, and the Brides make an appearance. I didn’t find them very scary (unlike the Bela Lugosi version, see above), as you could sort of see the acting strings, as it were. Nevertheless, Elliott makes a good Prince of Darkness. What a fine actor he was. I’ve never seen him in anything where he didn’t give a committed performance. Susan George is the flighty Lucy, and the scene where she rises from the dead, and menaces Mina in the cemetery has a dark dreamlike quality. Worth seeking out for Dracula completists.
DRACULA AD 1972 (1972)
Dir: Alan Gibson
Hey man, let’s get down and groovy with those cool cats of 1972 … no, I can’t keep that up. Misguided attempt by Hammer to bring the Dracula legend into the (then) present day. Unfortunately, the opening scene, which is classic Hammer gothic, with carriage thundering through gloomy parkland, jars badly with the sudden switch to a modern setting. It instantly makes you feel like you’ve been short-changed. The party scenes with those “wild” youngsters (actually, they just seem boorish and rude) don’t even carry a nostalgic feel. Peter Cushing adds some class in his old role as van Helsing, but it’s all a lot of nonsense really. I wanted to watch it because I heard it influenced the whole Highgate Vampire outbreak in the early 70s, but it just feels embarrassing.
DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966)
Dir: Terence Fisher
Two British couples, one called Alan and Helen, and the other (rather unfortunately) called Charles and Diana, are on holiday in Transylvania. Whilst having a few bevvies at a village inn, they meet an eccentric gun-toting monk, Father Sandor (Andrew Kerr) who warns them to stay away from the castle. Good advice, but the next think you know the foursome are stopping for a bite to eat the at the aforementioned castle, and being served by a lugubrious old retainer called Klove (Philip Latham). One of the guests goes off for a wander round the castle in the middle of the night, and ends up being used by Klove as a ritual sacrifice, in order to resurrect his master, the legendary Count Dracula. This third outing in the Hammer stable of Dracula films tends to divide people. Some feel it is lacklustre, and hampered by Christopher Lee not being given any lines to say (from what I heard once Lee saw the script and flatly refused to come out with the hackneyed lines he was given, so they simply cut them all out). Others find it an entertaining little vampire romp, with an imaginative ending on the iced-over moat outside the castle. I did once see the film included in Channel 4’s list of 100 Most Scary Moments. I’ve quite liked it over the years. The castle has a good aura of brooding menace, and any film starring Barbara Shelley is always worth a watch. I seem to have gone off of late, but I suspect that’s just because I’ve seen it too many times.
DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE (1971)
Dir: Roy Ward Baker
A thoroughly entertaining re-working of the Jekyll and Hyde idea, this time by having Jekyll turn .. not into a hairy, boorish lout, but a sexy woman. Ralph Bates (Ah!!) is the doctor who, on imbibing some of his own potions, turns into Martine Beswick. Apparently the casting of Martine was quite by chance, but she does actually look like a female version of Bates. You can easily imagine them as twin brother and sister. I don’t know who came up with the idea for this, but full marks for ingenuity to them.
DR NO (1962)
Dir: Terence Young
The film that started the massively successful Bond franchise. Sean Connery looks and is absolutely wonderful as the suave spy sent to investigate odd happenings on a Caribbean island. Unlike many of the later Bonds, this one stays very faithful to Ian Fleming’s original novel, the main difference being that a spider is substituted for a poison caterpillar, can only assume this is because the spider is much more terrifying visually than a caterpillar would be. Ursula Andress is heavenly as Honey. The scene where she emerges from the waves in her white bikini was once voted the most erotic scene in cinema in a Channel 4 poll. What I was struck by, watching this again recently, is how very like an old 1930s adventure thriller it is, from Bond and Honey hiding under the water, to the Basil Rathbone-style villain. A classy film, and fascinating to see where the whole Bond cinema legend started.
DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972)
Dir: Robert Fuest
Ah that old devil called Phibes is on the move again! Enjoyable follow-up to the original. I was surprised to see it had such a low rating on Rotten Tomatoes, as it was better than I remembered it. I love the Art Deco 1920s style, and the exotic Egyptian setting. It’s true you don’t have the 7 Plagues-style murders, and I’ve seen it argued that Phibes doesn’t conjure up the sympathy from the audience that he did in the first. But it’s stylish (Victoria’s glass coffin!), it’s very funny in parts, as well as squeamish, and the ending, where Phibes glides off, singing ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’, is a worthy finale to a great couple of films.
DR TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965)
Dir: Freddie Francis
The first portmanteau horror film from Amicus in 1965, and one of the best. Five men, complete strangers, board a night-time train. In their midst is a strange old man (Peter Cushing) armed with a pack of Tarot cards. To wile away the journey, he proceeds to read their fortune. Some great stories in this collection, provided you don’t take too snooty an attitude. I’ve read some criticism of Roy Castle in the voodoo story, but I find him affable enough, and I love that old 60s jazz music. An impossibly handsome Christopher Lee puts in a superbly sneering performance as a haughty art critic. Also worth seeing for Alan Freeman getting attacked by a man-eating plant.
DRY ROT (1956)
Dir: Maurice Elvey
I normally have a weakness for old black-and-white British comedy, but this one tries the patience, and from what I can gather on Wikipedia it didn’t go down a bundle when it was first released in 1956 either. Based on a Whitehall farce, the story revolves around three bent bookies hiding a racehorse at a country house. When farce works well it can have you crying with laughter (think of ‘Fawlty Towers’ at it’s most manic), but when it doesn’t work it’s a sore trial to one and all. And a slow-moving farce is the worst of the lot. I once read that the best comic advice to any actor appearing in farce is to play it dead straight, a piece of advice that was lost on the cast in this. Joan Sims plays a gormless bumpkin maid, whose accent seems to belong to no known race on Earth. She’s so yokel she belongs more in 1756 than 1956. Brian Rix is the simple lad who falls for her. Unfortunately he’s so thick that you end up dreading his one-braincell routine. Even the magnificent Peggy Mount can’t save this one. She certainly livens things up, bellowing orders as an invincible policewoman, but her usual deft touch at playing dragons deserts her here. There isn’t the complexity and the comic genius she brought to her role in ‘Sailor Beware’ for instance, or ‘Inn For Trouble’. The biggest problem for me though was Ronald Shiner as the lead role. I simply just couldn’t warm to him. This is the kind of role that is crying out for the bumbleness of Will Hay. Only he could’ve saved this film, but he was no longer with us by this point.
Dir: Steven Spielberg
I have never come across anyone who didn’t like this film. It never fails to impress, and I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it over the years. The wonderful Dennis Weaver (my idea of the perfect American man) is a travelling salesman, who finds himself locked in a battle of wits with the driver of a smelly old gas-truck on the remote desert roads of the USA. Made in 1971, based on a story by Richard Matheson, it was Steven Spielburg’s first outing as a director, and was made for television. The film works, partly because it taps directly into Every Driver’s Worst Nightmare, and partly because we never find out who the bullying truck-driver is. We never see him, apart from a hand on the steering-wheel, an arm sticking out of the window, and his feet when he plants them on the ground. This gives him a supernatural quality, and has led some viewers to speculate that he’s really the Devil. Weaver is a sort of Everyman figure, (he’s even called David Mann), a mild-mannered ordinary modern man, forced into a primitive battle for survival. The characters who appear briefly are also well-crafted, particularly the old lady who runs a gas-station, with her own little menagerie. It all has a Hitchcockian film, in that ordinary locations and people are given a sinister, off-kilter feel. If you’ve never seen this, then track down a copy. I found a poor-quality version on YouTube, but dvd would be better.
DURING BARTY’S PARTY (1976)
Another from the Nigel Kneale ‘Beasts’ series, and one of the oddest TV plays I’ve ever seen. It was made in 1976, not long after James Herbert had scored a massive hit with his debut novel ‘The Rats’. I don’t know if Kneale was inspired by that, but it’s hard not to be reminded of it. Anthony Bate and Elizabeth Sellars are a middle-aged couple, who start to hear stories on the radio that large packs of king-sized rats have been seen about the countryside. They find themselves besieged in their home by the dratted critters. You never see the rats, you only hear them gnawing through the floorboards, which makes this drama even more effective. A very strange and effective piece of 1970s television.
DYLAN THOMAS A POET IN NEW YORK (2014)
Dir: Aisling Walsh
Sad but excellent biopic charting the Welsh poet’s final few days of his life in the autumn of 1953. Thomas was on a lecture tour of the United States when he went on a catastrophic bender, which involved him downing 18 whiskies on the trot. It was a bender too far for his tortured body. Tom Hollander is superb as the archetypal tortured genius. He succeeds in you never losing sympathy for Thomas, even when he was being at his most exasperating. A strange, funny little man, who, with his curly hair, can seem quite clownish at times, in the most pathos way of clowns that is. Essie Davis puts in a frankly scary turn as his fiery wife Caitlin. A nicely understated little masterpiece.
THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING (1965)
Dir: Terence Fisher
Surprisingly effective low-budget sci-fi horror from the early 1960s. It can probably be counted as a vintage British zombie film. An atomic gas attack has killed the people of Blighty, leaving only a handful of survivors, who naturally (being Brits) head to the nearest pub for sanctuary. As if they haven’t got enough on their plate, they also find sinister robots patrolling the streets, and the dead are coming back to life. It would be easy to mock the plodding robots and zombies, but I found them surprisingly creepy, particularly the zombies with their eyeless faces. The film is a little bit too talky at times, but I did find it very absorbing, and it made me jump in a couple of places, which is more than can be said for a lot of modern big-budget horrors these days. It feels like an old Doctor Who story, or The Avengers without the humour. Running at just over an hour long, it certainly doesn’t out-stay it’s welcome either.
EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956)
Dir: Fred F Sears
The ultimate in cheesy 1950s flying saucer B-movies, and said to have been the inspiration for the spoof ‘Mars Attacks’. An American space research centre (sorry center) comes under attack by flying saucers. They abduct a general and basically suck out his brain, reducing him to a zombified state. The pesky aliens then abduct a few more, and show their prowess in blowing up military ships, and hovering over famous world landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower, and the British Houses of Parliament (they can have that one if they like). This has everything: pipe-smoking scientists, a forbidding voice-over who sounds like he should be narrating a Biblical epic, and aliens who are oddly effective in their cheap faceless suits.
ELIZABETH – THE GOLDEN AGE (2007)
Dir: Shekhar Kapur
Cate Blanchett dons the red wig and the starched ruff once again to play Good Queen Bess, in the sequel to ‘Elizabeth’. The first film, although highly-acclaimed, was a bit of a Marmite film, in that you either loved it or hated it. This one though is just a bit of a drag. Blanchett blusters and hollers a lot as the Queen, to show us snippets of the Tudor temper, but she doesn’t really have any presence. In fact, most of the time she reminded me more of Princess Anne than Gloriana. What I can’t get over though is how the film has taken two fascinating episodes in the Queen’s life, namely the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, and the Spanish Armada, and made it a crashing bore. We don’t even get the “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman speech” at Tillbury. We get Cate, head in foot in armour, (Bess only wore a breastplate), on a restless horse, blithering on in a lacklustre fashion. It’s rubbish.
ENCHANTED APRIL (1992)
Dir: Mike Newell
I know the book of this – by Elizabeth von Arnim – is very highly regarded. In fact, to some people you only have to mention it for them to go quite sentimental on you. I’ve never read it. Whether that is an advantage or disadvantage when rating this film I honestly don’t know. Two friends decide to escape the wet misery of an English spring by renting a house in the Italian countryside. Because they can’t afford a month on their own, they have to pool resources with a couple of strangers, a curmudgeonly and very grand old lady (Joan Plowright), and a languid young aristocrat (Polly Walker). It’s a nostalgic piece of escapism, although a tad too sentimental for my tastes (“this house is a great big tub of love”, that sort of thing. But if you want something undemanding and uplifting then it works just fine.
THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964)
Dir: Freddie Francis
Watch out, the Baron’s on the loose again. The graceful Peter Cushing once again steps up to the plate to reprise his role as Baron Frankenstein. He returns to the old ancestral home, only to find the villagers have wrecked it. This doesn’t deter him, although he does let out a little moan of “why can’t they leave me alone?” Soon he’s back at work though, creating monsters. The result is a distinctly sub-standard specimen, looking like Boris Karloff knocked up out of papier-mache by some kids at playgroup. The creature escapes and starts to lay waste to the livestock in the neighbourhood. Thinking that his creation has been destroyed, the Baron goes on the run, and we get weird scenes with the Baron and his sidekick (Sandor Eles) both donning carnival masks, and causing a stir in a bar and then in a hypnotist’s tent. If, like me, you are a Hammer fan, then you will find this film entertaining enough, although I wouldn’t say it was the best from them. It was made in 1964, and seems to have been shot on the same sets as ‘The Gorgon’ (see below). There is a scenic shot of a hut by the river which is identical to the one used in that film. Worth watching just for the electric storm scene at the beginning.
EVIL UNDER THE SUN (1982)
Dir: Guy Hamilton
I always thought that was a great title for a book, but then Dame Agatha Christie was good at those. This is one of those 1970s blockbuster Christie adaptations with an all-star cast. These days it is of interesting for its escapist setting, the Spot The Famous Face Before They Get Bumped Off game (a bit like ‘The Towering Inferno’ in that respect), and Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot. To be honest, I preferred the later TV adaptation starring David Suchet, and which was set on Devon’s Burgh Island. But this is an enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours nonetheless.
THE EXORCISM (1972)
One of a series of ghosts stories aired on the BBC in the winter of 1972, under the collective title ‘Dead Of NIght’ (nothing to do with the 1945 film of the same name). ‘The Exorcism’ is about two couples who meet up to spend Christmas at a country cottage. As they are tucking into their Christmas dinner though, the power goes off. This is only the start of their troubles, as the food and wine becomes inedible, and they are encroached upon by an unearthly darkness. The first half of the film is genuinely unsettling, and you wonder where on earth this is going. Too much of the second half though is giving over to a long monologue. Whilst this is absorbing, and quite powerful, it does all become a bit preachy. Yes, it’s obscene that some people have more than they need, and others starve. It’s always been unfair. Life’s a bitch. We get it. The moralising is laid on with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. It’s interesting to see the references to the time it was made. The early 70s was a time of huge unrest here in Blighty, with power-cuts, strikes, and a State Of Emergency. And the comment that society is defined by technology is even more relevant now than it was then. One flick of the switch and we’d all be plunged backwards. Worth watching, particularly for Clive Swift, a seriously under-rated actor, one of those I could watch in anything. An interesting, very dark piece, with some profound comments, but please, there’s only so much preaching I can take.
EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960)
Dir: Georges Franju
Superbly atmospheric 1950s French horror about a young woman, chronically disfigured in a road accident, who lives a twilight existence at the top of her father’s country house. Unbeknown to her, her father, who is a top surgeon, has been abducting young women and surgically removing their faces, so that he can try and achieve the first face transplant. The experiments go horribly wrong, and the victims are slain and dumped, usually by the doctor’s sinister female assistant, played by Valli (of ‘Third Man’ fame). The whole film has a Grimms fairy tale feel to it. The scenes set in and around the doctor’s house are hugely atmospheric, with the constant sound of birdsong in the background, and poor Christiane, drifting ghost-like through the house in her mask. The face-transplant scene isn’t for the faint-hearted. I remember somebody once saying “surely they won’t show the whole thing?” They do. The most terrifying part is when one of the victims wakes up on the operating-table and glimpses Christiane (sans mask) leaning over her. The portrayal of the doctor is also sympathetically done. He’s not an evil man, but by obsessively trying to do good for his daughter he has become one. Sad-eyed Edith Scob wrings the old heart-strings as the tragic Christiane. Although I saw in one interview with her that she said “under the mask I was smiling all the time, but nobody could see it”.
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960)
Dir: Roger Corman
You want Gothic? This is the daddy of them all. The ultimate old dark house film in many ways. Based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, directed by Roger Corman, with screenplay by Richard Matheson, and starring Vincent Price. That’s some pretty good credentials there. Watching this again recently after a gap of many years, I was struck by what a visual feast this film is. The house is the absolute epitome of what a haunted house should be. It’s cobwebby, crumbling to pieces (literally), full of dark wood and red velvet furnishings, and stuck permanently in a swirling dank fog. Mark Damon plays an upright young Bostonian, who travels to the decaying pile to see his fiancee, the raven-haired Madeline (Myrna Fahey). Once there, he becomes convinced that she is being kept under house-arrest by her brother Roderick (Vincent Price), a thin, lugubrious aristocrat, who is prone to hyper-sensitivity. Of course things aren’t as simple as that. Is Madeline being kept there by her evil sibling, or is she being kept confined for her own good, as she has inherited the Usher curse of insanity? One of the highlights of the film for me was the part where Roderick gives Philip a tour of the family portraits. These are strange works of art indeed, curious abstract pieces depicting the characters almost as inhuman aliens. If they had just used ordinary portraits for this segment I think it wouldn’t have worked. Instead you look at these with fascinated horror. In the dream sequence, the ancestors are brought to life, and it’s interesting that this doesn’t work nearly as well, with the characters seeming more comic than frightening. No, it’s the portraits what does it. Plus a word must be said about Matheson’s screenplay. Beautifully written, and I can see where he was heading with ‘Legend of Hell House’ a few years later (see below). The isolated, gloomy house, the small cast of characters, the young woman who is being torn apart by the house she can’t leave. In fact, the Usher house and Hell House bear some very striking similarities with one another. Both, to me, are the archetypal haunted house.
THE FAST LADY (1963)
Dir: Ken Annakin
A sort of prequel to ‘Father Came Too’ (see below), in which Stanley Baxter, rejoicing in the name of Murdoch Troon plays a keen cyclist who comes up against cantankerous old motorist, James Robertson Justice. A very funny slapstick comedy ensues, with Leslie Phillips popping up in his usual suave womanising role (“hell-lo!”), and Julie Christie, in one of her first screen roles, as Baxter’s love interest. Great fun.
FATHER CAME TOO! (1963)
Dir: Peter Graham Scott
Enjoyable, undemanding Brit comedy, about the likeable Stanley Baxter as a newly-wed setting up home for the first time, and having to contend not just with a dilapidated old house, but a larger-than-life (in all senses of the word) father-in-law in the shape of James Robertson Justice. Cue lots of vintage fun slapstick which Laurel and Hardy would have felt quite at home with. The suave Leslie Phillips adds to the hilarity as a smooth-talking estate-agent who has aspirations to be a great actor, and Ronnie Barker as a laid-back builder, who would rather be jamming with his skiffle group than sorting the roof out. James Robertson Justice hams it up wonderfully, and Baxter is a great sidekick as his permanently long-suffering son-in-law. A nice, easy way to spend 90 minutes.
FEAR IN THE NIGHT (1972)
Dir: Jimmy Sangster
Peter Cushing and Joan Collins make perhaps one of the most unlikely married couples you can imagine, but that’s what we get in this low-key Hammer thriller from 1972. Ralph Bates is a teacher at a boys’ prep school. He returns to work, bringing his new young bride (Judy Geeson) with him. The school is a bit odd though. Boys voices are heard in empty classrooms, but other than that there seem to be no pupils. What’s going on? This is one of those thrillers which I enjoy more when I know what the twist is, but perhaps that’s just me. Cushing is excellent as always, as the strange headmaster, sorry to sound repetitive, but he’s always good. Joan Collins is on top bitch-form as his hard-as-nails wife, proving to be more terrifying in this than she was even as Alexis Carrington. It’s a sombre little chiller. Certainly worth a look, but nothing to rave about.
THE FERRYMAN (1974)
One of a pair of ghost stories (the other being ‘Poor Girl’, see below), which were aired by Granada TV over Christmas 1974, and which are now available on dvd. In this one, from a story by Kingsley Amis, the impossibly handsome Jeremy Brett plays Sheridan Owen, a novelist. Sheridan’s written a book called ‘The Ferryman’s Rest’ about a pub haunted by the ghost of a disreputable ferryman. One day, whilst driving out in the rain with his wife, they seek refuge at a hotel … which turns out to be called ‘The Ferryman’. Not only that, but the staff have similar names to the characters in his book. This well-made little drama wasn’t quite as scary as I’d hoped, but Jeremy is always immensely watcheable, and if you like under-stated ghost stories, without the ridiculous histrionics we get these days, then it’s certainly well worth a look.
FIEND WITHOUT A FACE! (1958)
Dir: Arthur Crabtree
Dig that for a title! Actually, the makers of this enjoyable 1950s B-movie have to be given credit for resourcefulness. Shooting on a small budget, they solved one problem by making the monsters completely invisible for the majority of the film, and when they do appear they’re like balloons disguised as snails. Something awful is stalking the backwoods of Canada. It sneaks up on people and sucks out their brains. Naturally everybody blames it on the nearby atomic power plant, and the way to solve these terrifying murders is by blowing it up! It’s a pacey bit of hokum. The acting might be decidedly ropey, but it’s still a fun relic of its time, when people were ready to blame just about anything on atomic power. This has it all, old professor in a tweed jacket, token girl with impressive jacked-up bosom, and a monster which, for most of the film, only manifests as rustling leaves, footsteps stamping through hay, and someone off-screen making a sound like a bath emptying.
FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964)
Dir: Nathan H Juran
Enjoyable caper based on H G Wells’ novel, but considerably packing more warmth and fun than that rather cold-blooded affair. Lionel Jeffries doing the kind of thing he did best, playing the loveable eccentric uncle-type, who is building a rocket to the Moon in Edwardian England. Anyone looking for scientific realism had better look elsewhere, as this is distinctly aimed at entertaining children, and the young-at-heart. Our intrepid trio of astronauts blast off taking a hutch of chickens with them, plus an elephant gun (well you never know who you might meet), and gin-and-bitters. It has a Python-ish air at times, but also packs plenty of excitement, and those creepy little Selenites manage to be fairly formidable. Full marks to Martha Hyer for going to the Moon and back in a long, trailing skirt and full frothy Edwardian blouse!
Dir: Arch Oboler
Rarely seen post-apocalyptic movie from 1951, about a small group of survivors travelling across America in the aftermath of a nuclear war. I only saw this once many years ago, but the scenes where they arrive in the devastated city stood out as highly disturbing. TRIVIA CORNER: clips of the film can be seen in the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic ‘Great Balls Of Fire’.
FOOTSTEPS IN THE FOG (1955)
Dir: Arthur Lubin
High melodrama in the Victorian vein, all gaslights, swirling fog, sweet sherry and corsets. The stunning Jean Simmons plays a ruthlessly ambitious maidservant who gets a job at the troubled home of Stewart Grainger, who is anchored to an unwanted wife. Needless to say perhaps, the wife doesn’t get to stay in the film for long, and before you know it Jean (the hussy!) is wearing her jewellery, sacking the other servants, and swanning around in a new black silk uniform. It’s an engaging little thriller, with a few plot twists to keep you watching. Perfect viewing for a gloomy afternoon.
FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981)
Dir: John Glen
After the exuberant buffoonery of ‘Moonraker’ the Bond genre took a turn back to basics with ‘For Your Eyes Only’. This is more old-school Bond, more familiar to fans of Ian Fleming’s original novels than the clownish excesses of its predecessor, although having said that it does have it’s share of 80s disco-y exuberances. There’s not much to say really other than it’s a competent thriller with enough thrills to keep you watching, particularly a human sharkbait sequence which was used originally in Fleming’s book version of ‘Live And Let Die’. There is also a fairly thrilling rock-climbing sequence. The kooky young ice-skater feels uncomfortable to watch now though, with a childish girl coming on strongly to a middle-aged Roger Moore. “Get dressed and I’ll buy you an ice-cream”. Hmm. Likewise the dismally unfunny Margaret Thatcher cameo at the end (played by impersonator Janet Brown) jars a bit. Someone on Twitter described this film as being like “a cross between the Pink Panther and Noel Streatfield’s White Boots”.
THE FRANCHISE AFFAIR (1951)
Dir: Lawrence Huntington
Odd little British thriller from the early 1950s, based on a novel by Josephine Tey. A young girl arrives home late one night, drenched to the skin, claiming that two women, living in a remote gloomy house, have been holding her prisoner in an attic room. Her story is that they beat and stripped her, and tried to make her work as their servant. When I first saw this many years ago I thought such an idea felt too far-fetched, but in these days of growing concern about slavery in the UK, perhaps not so much now. Needless to say all is not what it seems. It’s intriguing, and a very good example of what can happen when you’re caught up in a ’cause celebre’, and your neighbourhood turns against you. If you think people couldn’t be so petty and vicious now, try being on Twitter next time the pitchfork mob are out in full force! Bugger all has changed.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)
Dir: Terence Young
Usually regarded as one of the best films of the entire Bond collection, and I’m not arguing. There is no denying that the suavely handsome Sean Connery added his own unique touch to the role. He gives the character an indefinable something which hints at a complex nature underneath all the macabre jesting and ruthless actions. Anyway, this film has everything you could hope for from a classic Bond movie. Exotic locations, a beautiful, glamorous heroine, a cat-stroking Blofeld (even though you never see him), gadgetry, a great musical score by John Barry, and the fantastic Lotte Lenya (give her a wide berth when she’s got her leather gloves on!). If you’ve never seen it before, look out for the dinner scene on the train, where the villain blows his cover by the simple mistake of ordering red wine with the fish. Connery’s reaction is so subtle you can easily miss it, but it’s significant all the same. I also liked the scene where Bond requests that the cat-fight between the two gypsy girls be stopped. It’s unexpected, but hints that Bond perhaps has more than just the hired psychopath about him. (In fact, I would strongly argue that Bond isn’t a psychopath at all, in spite of psychologists these days saying otherwise).
THE FOG (1980)
Dir: John Carpenter
The little Californian coastal town of Antonio Bay is about to celebrate it’s centenary. Unfortunately a spanner is thrown in the works when the local drunken priest unearths an old diary, kept by one of the founding fathers, which details how the town was built upon murder, theft and lies. Now, as the 100th anniversary approaches, the town begins to be plagued by strange supernatural occurrences. It seems the ghosts of the leper colony, who were ruthlessly killed for their gold, are returning to wreck vengeance. This is an old favourite of mine. Parts of it are absurd, but on the whole I feel it holds up well as an effective modern ghost story. It also has a lighthouse prominently featured in it, which always goes down well with me, and this one has the added cool touch of having a woman (Adrienne Barbeau) operating a radio station from it. Real-life mother and daughter, Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee-Curtis, also appear. I caught the remake recently, which again does a reasonable job, but I have a particular soft spot for this one. I love the way music is used in this to convey the strangeness of life by the sea, and as I said, I love the lighthouse scenes.
FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956)
Dir: Fred M Wilcox
It’s the intelligent ideas behind this film that I think make it such a classic. It’s also a cracking sci-fi adventure of course, about a spaceship full of homesick men who find themselves on a bleak planet populated only by an eccentric scientist called Morbius, his beautiful daughter, and their robot butler. It is reputedly based upon Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, which instantly lifts it into a class of its own. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it’s also quite creepy in parts. This is certainly not your usual 1950s schlock effort, and is rightly highly regarded. Great entertainment, and also thought-provoking.
Dir: J Searle Dawley
The first movie version of Mary Shelley’s novel clocks in at just over 12 minutes long. Filmed in 1910, we get the whole story compressed into that short time, and watching it on YouTube, I couldn’t help wishing how some more ponderous modern versions would just crack on with the same economy and minimum of fuss! The scene where the monster appears for the first time is still highly effective (particularly as you tend to be distracted by the skeleton sitting on the chair in front). When he does appear he looks a bit like Russell Brand in torn clothes. It would be easy to sneer at this very early slice of horror cinema, but at only a few minutes long, you’re really not being asked to give up much of your time to view it (so none of that “that’s 12 minutes of my life I won’t get back” nonsense, because you’ll just sound silly), and as one YouTube viewer put it, you can’t really call yourself a horror buff until you’ve viewed this one.
FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974)
Dir: Terence Fisher
The final outing in Hammer’s hugely successful series of Frankenstein films. It’s a downbeat, (not to say gloomy) ending, but I still have a fondness for it, and it’s still worth watching. The Baron (Peter Cushing) is now working as a doctor in a lunatic asylum. When a young man (an elfin-looking Shane Briant) is incarcerated there for copying him, the Baron seizes his chance to enlist his help in having a final go at trying to create a human being from a few old bits and bobs lying about. Madeleine Smith plays a beautiful mute girl, who acts as their unlikely assistant. As I said, a low-key ending for the series, but it still has it’s share of splendid gothic moments, and there are some interesting comments on just how ethical is it for medical science to go messing with people’s brains (literally so in this case!).
FRANKENSTEIN – THE TRUE STORY (1973)
Dir: Jack Smight
I’m writing this one from distant memory, as it never gets shown on TV these days, it’s not available for download, and the DVD is restricted to Region 1 (which is precious little help when you live in Region 2!). I cannot for the life of me understand why it’s so scarcely available. It’s well-made, has a good solid all-star cast, and doesn’t disappear up its own bum with pomposity. In fact, it’s my personal favourite of all the Frankenstein adaptations. Made in 1973, this is a colourful, exuberantly gothic affair. Some stand-out moments: David McCallum as the Baron’s mentor, renting a gloomy, dilapidated pile for his research (“the locals think it’s haunted, still it keeps them away”), the My Fair Lady-ish segment when the Baron takes his handsome creation off to the opera to show him off, and loves it when they think he’s a foreign prince, Jane Seymour as the Bride, singing “I love little kitten, her coat is so warm”, before trying to throttle a cat, and the final part of the film set on a ship in the Arctic, with Tom Baker as the Captain. There are several decidedly gruesome pars, such as the scene where the monster gatecrashes a party and rips off the head of his bride, and the part where the monster gets revenge on Polidori (James Mason) by stringing him up on the mast of the ship and leaving him to be struck by lightning, still freaks me out, even now. Refreshingly unpretentious (unlike Kenneth Branagh’s effort), and in the full spirit of gothic horror, it’s high time this one was made more widely available. Come on distributors, sort it out. NOTE: have just discovered that this was released on general dvd in 2014. Will come back to this review when I’ve had a chance to re-assess it. UPDATE: having just viewed this again after a gap of many years, yes, I can confirm that it is still a classy, elegant production, beautiful to look at with, with many fine actors, and some very gothic moments. I had completely forgotten Nicola Pagett was also in it, as Elizabeth. A beautiful woman, with an air of different-ness about her (a bit like Pamela Franklin). For me this is still the definitive production of Mary Shelley’s story.
Dir: Tod Browning
I remember seeing this film for the first time several years ago, when it was part of Channel 4’s What The Censor Saw season. ‘Freaks’ had been banned in Britain for decades, and was only released from purdah in the 1980s. It still remains one of the most controversial films ever made. In 1932 director Tod Browning was ordered to go and “out-horror Frankenstein”, which had been a massive hit for a rival studio. Browning certainly achieved that, all too well for audiences of the time. He had gone back to the sideshows and travelling circuses of his youth for inspiration, and this is where the controversy comes in. The “freaks” of the title aren’t actors in full make-up, but the Real McCoy. When the film was first aired in the States, there were tales of women running screaming from the theatres, and the film was removed from public view. It’s a shame, as it has a great story, is genuinely unnerving, and the performers are shown sympathetically, having their own tightnit little community within a community. The plot: an unscrupulous trapeze artist called Cleopatra – the statuesque Olga Baclanova – is determined to get her greedy hands on the fortune of pint-sized Hans, and will marry him to do so. One of the most stunning scenes in the film is when the freaks arrange a wedding feast for Hans and Cleopatra, and chant the song “one of us, one of us, we will make her one of us”. They mean it as a compliment, that they have accepted her in their midst, but Cleopatra loses it and tells them all what she thinks of them. Unfortunately, when Hans’s friends find out about her dastardly intentions, they decide to bring the song literally to life. The ending is truly shocking. When I first saw this film back in the 80s, everyone was writing off this kind of freak show as something which now belonged firmly in the distant past, and we will never see its like again … and yet, it seems to be making a curious kind of a comeback. Hopefully done with more sympathy from the general public, but on the whole I think this is a good thing.
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock’s final film, released in 1972. A serial-killer is on the loose in the East End of London, strangling women with neck-ties. Supposedly based on the unsolved real-life Jack The Stripper/Hammersmith Nudes case from the early 1960s, this is a dark, gritty thriller. A far cry from the more polished, elegant Hollywood Hitches from the 1950s and 60s, London of the early 70s looks suitably repulsive. The darkness of this film would be almost unbearable at times if Hitch didn’t leaven it with some comic pieces, such as the police inspector’s wife’s attempts at gourmet cooking. There are also some classic Hitch moments, such as the camera pulling back silently down the stairs and out into the busy street, whilst the killer is showing his latest victim into his flat, and the taut (not to say wince-making) scene on the potato truck. I think some have been disappointed that this is such a downbeat, low-key end to a glorious film career, but I see it as Hitch going back to his roots. ‘Frenzy’ is more akin to the British thrillers he made in the 1930s – particularly with it’s Wrong Man Convicted Of Murder sub-plot – than to the colourful extravaganzas such as ‘Vertigo’ and ‘North By Northwest’. When you look at it in that light, then it’s Hitch completing the circle.
FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1974)
Dir: Kevin Connor
British portmanteau horror from 1974, starring Peter Cushing in one of his sinister Old Man Bringing Death roles, and featuring stories by R Chetwynd Hayes. A host of familiar faces crop up, including Donald Pleasance (and his daughter, Angela), David Warner, and Ian Carmichael. I remember the first story, featuring a haunted mirror which demands human sacrifices, scaring me when I was younger, and it still packs an atmospheric punch now. Scariest of the lot though is Diana Dors as a shrewish wife.
FROM HELL (2001)
Dir: Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes
One day somebody will make a good film about the Whitechapel killings, quite why that’s eluding everyone I don’t know. This one almost staggers and dies under it’s urge to be taken seriously, and once again – as in the Michael Caine version from the late 1980s – it fills us with a lot of tedious tosh about complicated reasons behind the murders, instead of it just possibly being a psychopathic killer on the loose. Johnny Depp works hard a a Cockney accent as Inspector Abbeline, presenting us with a flawed, drug-addicted cop. (The real-life Inspector Abbeline was apparently a fairly clean-living down-to-earth copper, I do wish somebody would have the balls to present him as such for once!). Then we have a lot of romantic nonsense about the Ripper’s last victim, Mary Jane Kelly (Heather Graham), and … oh the whole thing is just tedious beyond belief. Perhaps if I fancied Johnny Depp I might like it, but as I’m one of the few women on Earth who don’t, I didn’t. According to Wikipedia the original author of the story was so disgusted, particularly by the changes to Abbeline’s character, that he disowned it. I don’t blame him at all.
FUNERAL IN BERLIN (1966)
Dir: Guy Hamilton
The second in the Harry Palmer trilogy, and this time our hero (Michael Caine), or the alternative to James Bond as some of us like to think of him, is sent to Germany to bring back a Communist defector. I can’t think of any other film that so brilliantly encapsulates Europe in the Cold War era, both it’s dreariness and at the same time it’s decadence. In some ways it reminds me of Patricia Highsmith’s ‘The Boy Who Followed Ripley’, in that we get plenty of drag queens and sleazy Berlin nightclubs. Caine is on top form, wise-cracking and yet being self-deprecating at the same time. The scene where he goes back to Eva Renzi’s flat is a marvellous antidote to Bond. The flat is a mess for one thing, and Eva, although undoubtedly beautiful, is scarcely stepping out of the shower and instantly oozing “ooh Commander!” It’s all so wonderfully down-to-earth and realistic, a scene between two grown-up people (it’s astonishing how little that seems to happen in films sometimes). Like Bond though, the Palmer films were to degenerate into outrageous buffoonery with ‘Billion Dollar Brain’, although still fun. TRIVIA CORNER: David Frost once picked ‘Funeral In Berlin’ as his favourite film ever on a tribute night to him.
FUNNY BONES (1995)
Dir: Peter Chelsom
Something doesn’t quite work with this film for me, and it’s very hard to pinpoint what it is. I like the whole idea of it: that some people are born naturally with “funny bones”, whilst others have to work hard at it. I think it was the American critic Roger Ebert who seemed to disagree with this, saying that it was the material that was funny, not the performer or the actor. I disagree. After all, if that was the case all anyone would need would be good gag-writers, and as anyone who’s ever sat through a politician murdering jokes left, right and centre will know, that is simply not the case. Whereas some people (as I point out in my review about ‘The House In Nightmare Park’ further down) can make any banal old line hysterically funny. Well anyway the plot of the film is thus: Oliver Platt plays the son of a famous stand-up comedian, but when he tries it himself he bombs big-time. He simply doesn’t have Funny Bones. In a bid to learn his craft, he goes to Blackpool (!), and decides to learn how to be funny from some old troopers of the entertainment trade. Frankly, why doesn’t he go and interview some comedians who are at the top of their game? But perhaps I’m missing the point, anyway once in Blackpool he hears about Lee Evans, who is naturally gifted. And perhaps this is where the film falls down for me. Now don’t get me wrong, Lee Evans is a very funny stand-up comedian. In later years though he seems to have come over all Robin Williams, and we get too much stuff about cute babies (unless I dreamt that). To put it succinctly, he’s a Zany Comedian, and I tend to find them of limited appeal. For me, a true comic is one you can imagine cracking you up with a small, spontaneous off-the-cuff remark. Whereas with a Zany they’d have to be running around the room like a hyperactive toddler, which gets tedious. What I did like about this film was Blackpool, portraying it as a strange, surreal place all of its own … which of course it is. I also loved the auditions, where the strangest acts in Blackpool came to perform under Oliver Platt’s bemused gaze. He is actually the best part of the film. This big, cuddly man desperate to make people laugh. I find him funnier and more endearing than Lee Evans any day, which means I completely missed the point of the film! Not exactly the first time that’s happened I guess.
FUTTOCK’S END (1970)
Dir: Bob Kellett
Was delighted to find this on YouTube, as I hadn’t seen it in many years. One of a series of short films made by Ronnie Barker in the 1970s, which are a sort of homage to the slapsticks of the Silent Era. ‘Futtock’s End’ is the country home of General Futtock (Barker), and it centres round a weekend of visitors. This is English humour very much in the Benny Hill mode. I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t quite as funny as I remembered it. Perhaps Michael Hordern’s pervy butler doesn’t seem quite as funny as it did back then, but I also think Ronnie Corbett is much-missed. He would appear in the follow-up films, ‘The Picnic’ and ‘At The Sea’, which I did find much funnier, which I suppose goes to prove these two were a double-act for a reason. It does star Julian Orchard though, a British comedy actor possessed of a simply marvellous face.
GANGSTER NO.1 (2000)
Dir: Paul McGuigan
Very impressive gangster flick. Stylishly directed, it shows one man’s determination to become the top dog in the underworld. This guy is a total psychopath. He doesn’t even appear to be human at times. He has no name, no family (no intensely annoying Violet Kray-style mum to faff all over him, not like that blasted Billie Whitelaw turn in ‘The Krays’), and seems in fact to have no private life at all. It comes as quite a surprise to find that he’s actually got a flat to live in! He exists solely to wreck brutality, murder and mayhem. Paul Bettany is superb (although it has to be said the “look into my fucking eyes” bit becomes a bit panto at times), as is Malcolm McDowell who plays Gangster in old age. David Thewlis has a good go at playing Freddy Mays, the so-called butcher of Mayfair, but he’s hampered by the fact that he looks like an amiable horse! One sequence stands out particlarly. The one where Gangster literally butchers a rival gangland leader (“you’d better do a good job of this boy!”), and then takes a shower with his weapons afterwards.
Dir: Thorold Dickinson
There always seems to be some argy-bargy about which is the better version of Patrick Hamilton’s play, this one, or the Hollywood adaptation starring Ingrid Bergman. It’s simple, both are good. The Hollywood version was slicker and more polished, and had the lovely Ingrid, plus Angela Lansbury as her saucy maid, but this one feels a bit more real somehow. Diana Wynyard plays Bella, a woman at the mercy of her psychopathic husband, Paul (Anton Walbrook), who has moved them into a posh London town-house, where he had previously murdered an old lady for her jewels, only to be unable to find them. The plot hinges largely around Paul trying to convince Bella she’s insane, and this can be an uncomfortable and upsetting watch for anyone who has ever been in a relationship like that. In fact, the term “gas lighting” has now entered the language, to describe a relationship, whereby a sociopath subjects their victim to psychological abuse. This version was so good in fact that Hollywood demanded all copies of it be destroyed, so that it wouldn’t harm their remake. Which also sounds like psychopathic behaviour.
GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953)
Dir: Howard Hawks
I’m not a huge fan of musicals, it has to be said, but there are notable exceptions, and this is one of them. The ultimate chick flick. Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell are two little girls from Little Rock taking a trip to Europe, in the hope of snaring a rich husband. Both ladies are superb. Jane as the athletic wise-cracking brunette, and Marilyn as the ditzy diamond-loving blonde. Funny, glamorous, with some great numbers. The girls were great friends in real life, and it shows, as there’s no attempt to try upstage the other. Marilyn’s showstopping performance of ‘Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend’ is still one of the most beautiful musical production numbers I’ve ever seen on film. All that gorgeous, glorious sugary pink! Heaven.
GET HIM TO THE GREEK (2010)
Dir: Nicholas Stoller
Russell Brand plays a rock star who releases an unbelievably pretentious record, ‘African Child’, which promptly bombs and sends him hurtling off the wagon. His record company send poor old down-trodden Jonah Hill over to London to escort him to Los Angeles for something-or-other. It’s a likeable enough film, with some undemanding slapstick, usually revolving around drugs. Jonah Hill is very likeable in his podgy underdog role, and Brand always gives plenty of (slightly seedy) charisma. If you want an undemanding late-night watch which will bring a smile to your face, you could do a lot worse than this.
GHOST SHIP (1952)
Dir: Vernon Sewell
No, not the more recent big-budget movie of the same name, but a rather tedious piece of cheap horror (if you can call it that) from many a year ago. A couple buy a boat which is haunted, so they decide to hold a seance there and find out what’s going on. That’s it. That’s your lot. It’s not frightening in the slightest, the acting is wooden (very much of the stilted, English 1950s style), and there is some absolutely tedious stuff about mediums and psychic investigation. If this was done as a dramatised public information film, what on earth were they trying to achieve?
THE GHOSTS OF HANLEY HOUSE (1968)
Dir: Louise Sherrill
Little-known (justifiably so) low-budget horror from 1968. It’s absolutely atrocious. I can only assume everyone involved – cast, director, scriptwriter – were all on drugs, as it’s the only thing that makes sense, considering how badly it’s acted, and the tortuously languid pace. Now normally I would think that if any genre lends itself to the low-budget black-and-white effort, then it’s the haunted house one, but this one doesn’t seem to have a clue what it’s doing. Anyway, the plot: admittedly the film gets off to a reasonably good start. We have a thunderstorm, a woman screaming (incessantly) from inside a fairly harmless-looking house, a clock going backwards, even a bit of organ music. OK movie, I’m up for it. But then it’s downhill all the way from there. A man totally devoid of any spark whatsoever (who I can only assume is called Knucklehead) is having a beer with a pal in a bar. His pal moans he can’t sell his house, because the ghosts are putting off any buyers, and he bets Knucklehead that if he can spend the entire night in the house he’ll give him a flash sports-car. Well there’s an offer you can’t refuse. Anyway, to cut a slow story short, he does of course wind up at the haunted house, with a bunch of people who are all as languid and dopey as him, plus – to add insult to injury – a black maid who seems to have strayed in from ‘Gone With The Wind’ (“yassir!”). From that moment on sod all happens, quite frankly. We have a few spooky sound-effects, but instead of being frightening, they just made me think Father Dougal was in another room with one of his BBC Sound Effects albums. Oh and a Man In Black who pops up in the garden and stares at the house as if he’s an estate-agent sizing it up. Even the house is a bleedin’ disappointment. I will forgive a film a lot of shortcomings if it has a genuinely spooky house in it. But this one looks totally harmless. Even the low-rent black-and-white photography can’t imbue it with any Atmosphere, and I didn’t think that was possible. Some of the ghostly effects, such as the picture falling off the wall, were done with more verve in ‘The Haunted House’ (see below), and that was made in 1908 for crissakes!! I do want to find something good to say about it, and I will admit I liked the eerie music, which is very much of its era, and reminded me of ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’. Other than that, pfft! I simply do not understand why somebody would go to all the trouble of making such a lacklustre film. It defies all sense. And yet it happens, time and time again.
GHOST STORY (1974)
Dir: Stephen Weeks
Not the American 1981 film based on the Peter Straub book, but a low-budget British supernatural thriller from 1974. Set in the 1920s, the story concerns three university friends (although they don’t seem to like each other very much) who hire a huge country house for a short holiday. Leigh Lawson plays Talbot, a painfully earnest bespectacled type, who finds himself being treated with contempt by his two snooty pals. Murray Melvin, one of the quirkiest British actors ever, plays McFadyen, a fop in a white suit. Vivian MacKerrell is Dullers, a cold-blooded sneering sort. Talbot starts to be spooked by a sinister china doll, and begins to see the previous occupants of the house, played by Penelope Keith and Marianne Faithfull. It’s a very odd film this, which effortlessly piles on the Atmosphere, helped enormously by the decaying old house. The bullying of poor old Talbot is not a comfortable watch, and you can’t help wandering why he doesn’t just leave the two snooty idiots to their tinned sardines. Although set in England, a lot of it was filmed in India. Very rarely shown on TV these days, I had to hunt it down on YouTube. Although possibly a bit slow at times, if you like spooky low-budget films it’s worth a watch. TRIVIA CORNER: Apparently Vivian MacKerrell, who made very few films, was the inspiration for the character of Withnail in ‘Withnail And I’.
Dir: Lesley Manning
Halloween 1992, and the BBC decided to emulate Orson Welles’ ‘The War Of The Worlds’ broadcast, by showing a play that was so frightening that unfortunately some viewers thought it was real. Tragically, it resulted in one young man committing suicide, and from then on the film has never been shown on mainstream British television. You can still find it though, and it has aged well, even though in the intervening years we’ve had the likes of ‘Most Haunted’ and its numerous copycat shows, which have led to ghost-hunting on TV becoming something of a joke. ‘Ghostwatch’ was based on the real life case of the Enfield Poltergeist, which occurred in the late 1970s, and which centred on a teenage girl who became possessed by the spirit of a previous resident of the house, a nasty old man. In ‘Ghostwatch’ the film centres on a mother and her two daughters, who have been plagued by strange noises in their central heating (leading them to nickname the ghost ‘Pipes’), and the eldest daughter speaking in a growly, masculine voice. The BBC decide to host a Halloween night ghost-hunt from the house, with links back to the studio, where Sir Michael Parkinson, the venerable elder statesman of chat-shows, is leading the proceedings. Real-life married couple, Mike Smith and Sarah Greene, play the back-up team, with comedian and ‘Red Dwarf’ actor, Craig Charles, doing all the vox pops out in the street. It is the professionalism of these guys which helps to make Ghostwatch so convincing. They play this completely straight, as if it really is a live TV broadcast. There are no knowing asides or smug looks. I’ve read some criticism of the acting of the family in this, but I’ve never found it a problem, and to be honest, a lot of people in real life who are unused to appearing on television can sound stilted. The story is a corker, as we gradually find out just what a repulsive character Pipes had been when he was alive. There has also been criticism that the details of his final days was simply too horrible and graphic for prime time viewing, but if they had watered this down then the true horror would have been an almighty let-down. This was 1992 for heaven’s sake, post-Psycho, post-Exorcist, post-video nasties era etc etc. No one would have been satisfied with a soft, sentimental Victorian tale of someone dying through unrequited love or racked with guilt, or some such nonsense like that. No, Pipes has to be a truly revolting character, and this is what makes the brief glimpse we have of him standing near the bedroom curtains so utterly terrifying. The setting was also highly effective. This is no gothic mansion, this is a common-or-garden suburban semi. It’s the very ordinariness of it which has such a great impact. It removes any fantasy element from the show. It is unlikely in the extreme that the BBC would ever try anything like this again, so it should be treasured as one of those moments when television really delivered the goods. Even in more recent years, when I hear someone like Yvette Fielding threatening to hold a seance on TV, I get a mild niggle of unease. Altogether now … “round and round the garden, like a teddy-bear …” ADDENDUM: Mike Smith died in August 2014. RIP to one of the nicest, most professional TV presenters to come out of the Beeb. I was glad to see Ghostwatch showing up some prominently in the tributes to him.
THE GHOUL (1975)
Dir: Freddie Francis
Some Bright Young Things are whooping it up in 1920s Britain, when they decide to race each other in their vintage automobiles to Lands End. One couple run out of petrol on a fog-bound country road. The man goes off to look for supplies. The woman (Veronica Carlson) has a nice little kip, and then, wearing a very fetching fur coat, goes off to find him. Escaping from the clutches of a lascivious village idiot (John Hurt, in his first film role I think), she stumbles upon a remote country house, where she meets the splendid Peter Cushing, and his Indian housekeeper (Gwen Watford). Naturally, there is also something unspeakable lurking in the attic … and it wears flip-flops. This is another of those low-key British gothic horrors from the early 1970s, which usually has professional film critics curling their lips in disdain … and yet the rest of us seem to love it. The story reminded me of the sort you would get in the old Pan Horror paperbacks I used to read in my long-lost youth. Viewers on YouTube have also compared it to ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’. It is nowhere near as gruesome as that film, but I guess there are similarities. Remote country area, family with dark secrets preying on lost travellers. Watching it again after a gap of many years, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The pacing might be a bit on the leisurely side, but the house – permanently surrounded by swirling fog – is great, and Cushing (ah how I adore him) gives another committed performance as an ex-missionary haunted by a disturbing family secret. I would dearly love to know how his Indian housekeeper managed to do a nifty bit of human dismemberment in her kitchen, without spoiling her spotless white sari, and the “monster” when we do finally see him is a bit of a letdown (well it’s only dear old Don Henderson, whom older UK viewers may recognise from all sorts of TV programmes), BUT it’s still a credible effort from the Tyburn film studios.
Dir: Marrtin Campbell
When I first started putting these reviews together, I thought ‘Licence To Kill’ was my least favourite Bond movie, but I’ve changed my mind. At least that one had Timothy Dalton in it. I’ve never warmed to Pierce Brosnan’s version of Bond. I don’t know why, and I accept I’m in a minority there. And there seems to be something particularly charmless about ‘Goldeneye’. There is also a nasty undercurrent of misogyny in this one. It’s all about men and women brutalising each other. Judi Dench adds some class as M (I think she has one of the best voices ever to grace an actor, I could listen to her reading out the telephone directory). But we also have Robbie Coltraine and Alan Cummings hamming it up all over the place. I’ll watch any Bond film frankly, at any time, but this one would never be near the top of the list.
Dir: Guy Hamilton
Hugely fun vintage Bond pic, which is notable for co-starring Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore, one of the coolest Bond girls ever (though the idea that she can be “cured” of her lesbianism by one session with Bond is every bit as much a male fantasy as Q’s customised Aston Martin). Watching it again I was struck by how the entire US gold reserve in this film is valued at only 15 billion dollars, that would probably be small change to the likes of Bill Gates these days! Sean Connery is as watcheable as ever, giving a smirking impish-ness to offset the macabre jests (“shocking”, he remarks as he electrocutes someone in the bath).
GONE TO EARTH (1950)
Dirs: Powell & Pressburger
Back in the early years of the 20th century Mary Webb wrote a number of novels centring around English rustic life, which must have begun to seem dated even back them. They are largely famous nowadays for being spoofed mercilessly by Stella Gibbons in ‘Cold Comfort Farm’. One of them was ‘Gone To Earth’, about a spirited young gypsy girl and her love of animals, particularly her pet fox. Powell and Pressburger adapted it for the big screen in 1950. Jennifer Jones, with her wild, dark beauty, was well-cast, and the film has a certain lost world charm, but it’s not really my cup of tea. I found myself being distracted too much by Jennifer’s wavering accent, which is broad rustic one minute, and Hollywood American the next.
THE GORGON (1964)
Dir: Terence Fisher
An interesting departure from Hammer’s usual Dracula/Frankenstein stable of ideas. This time they delve back into Greek mythology, and resurrect the legend of the gorgon, a snake-haired woman who could turn people to stone if they so much as looked at her face (also known as the scariest part of the original ‘Clash Of The Titans’). For some reason she has returned to haunt a small German village at the turn of the 20th century. This is quite an effective little chiller. The idea is quite scary anyway. A monster who can kill simply by looking at you is a fairly formidable one to say the least! Like so many of Hammer’s more unusual efforts this works best as an adult fairy-tale, and there are some nicely atmospheric touches. My favourite is the scene were one man, hearing the gorgon’s eerie singing on a moonlit night, sets off through the forest to find her. The ruined castle which Megaera inhabits has some genuinely edgy moments, as you don’t know just when she will appear or where she’s lurking. Peter Cushing gives a flawless performance (that scarcely needs saying really) as the painfully intense head doctor of the local hospital, who has an unrequited crush on his assistant, the beautiful Barbara Shelley. Christopher Lee pops up to help hunt for the gorgon, but for once his blustering performance seems out of tune with the sombre, ethereal atmosphere of the rest of the film. Some male critics have lambasted the male characters, moaning how many men it takes to track and kill what is effectively one woman (which is somewhat missing the point). I don’t care. One of my favourites this one.
GOSFORD PARK (2001)
Dir: Robert Altman
I’ve watched this film a couple of times now, and each time I struggle with it. This both surprises and disappoints me, because normally I love anything that has a big country house as a setting, and being set in the inter-war years makes it even better. But I can’t warm to it. It’s packed full of top-quality actors, and the attention to period detail is great, but I’m left cold by it. It’s crammed so full of people that it just feels chaotic and confusing. Added to that there are a times when the plot moves at such a sluggish pace that I feel I’m stuck in a dull weekend too. Now this might well be the director’s intention, but this is not what I look for in entertainment. The bridge party scene, with poor old Ivor Novello having to play endless songs on the piano, whilst Dame Maggie Smith makes catty remarks over the playing-cards, feels interminable. The below-stairs action may be very authentic, but the social injustice of the haves-versus-the-have-nots feels laid on with a trowel, and perhaps that’s the entire problem I have with the film. It’s wearing its chip-on-the-shoulder so blatantly that it becomes tedious. If you want the utter absurdity of the early 20th century class-system, than I suggest you watch an old episode of ‘Upstairs Downstairs’. The whole thing was summed up brilliantly and simply there by Rose the housemaid ordering young Edward to put the toothpaste on his master’s toothbrush! Anyway, back to ‘Gosford Park’, the whole thing is then kiboshed completely by Stephen Fry turning up as a police inspector and over-acting HORRIBLY. Really, why was he allowed to get away with this complete dog’s breakfast of a performance??
GRACE KELLY (1983)
Glossy, heavily airbrushed made-for-TV film of one of the most beautiful women of the 20th century. It covers Grace’s Hollywood years, up until her wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco. It’s not exactly a warts-and-all story, but it’s an undemanding, elegant way to spend a couple of hours. And Cheryl Ladd is very charming as the princess-in-waiting.
GRACE OF MONACO (2014)
Dir: Olivier Dahan
I honestly came to this with an open mind, expecting to be pleasantly surprised. I remembered all the awful reviews ‘Diana’ (see above) had had, and how much I had ended up enjoying it, so I was quite prepared for the same thing to happen here. It didn’t. ‘Grace Of Monaco’ truly is a waste of space, which is astonishing considering how much the initial idea had going for it, and how much money was clearly lavished on it. Grace Kelly was one of the most outstandingly beautiful women of the 20th century. Her story – how she went from Oscar-winning Hollywood actress, but gave it all up to become a European princess – never fails to be fascinating … and yet this film does her a grave disservice, making her story as dull as ditchwater. It’s not the fault of Nicole Kidman, who does a reasonably good turn as Grace. I’m not sure where to begin exactly when it comes to pointing the finger. At the bizarre camera-work, (it feels at times like the cameraman was either bored or drunk, or both) which insists on roaming about all over the place when it’s doing a close-up of Kidman, as though inspecting her face for spots. At the dreary story, which nearly tries to crush the viewer under it’s plodding relentless negativity. At the bits of the plot which simply make no sense, such as Grace being lectured constantly on how a princess should behave, even though by the time the film opens (in 1961) Grace has been royalty for 5 years and must have known by then what was expected of her. Plus Grace had been Hollywood royalty for years, she must have already known how to behave, and how to perform public duties. She was an elegant, sophisticated woman, not some coarse hayseed dragged away from the milking-stool. How it even manages to make Maria Callas dull, and I didn’t think that was humanly possible!! At Derek Jacobi giving us an absolutely mind-bogglingly dull history lesson about Monaco some way in. At it’s hideously patronising tone. The way Grace is transformed from a feisty American with a mind of her own to a banal royal going through the motions. OK that might possibly have been the point of the story, but the handling of it was atrocious. It all feels as dismal as ‘EastEnders’ but adapted for the super-rich. Someone on Amazon described this film as being like an extended perfume advert, but I feel this is unfair to perfume adverts, which do at least TRY and entertain you. The only way I can recommend this film to you is if (a) you’re a die-hard fan of Ms Kidman and will watch her in anything or (b) you love 1950s/60s clothes and accessories. In which case, fill your boots. A horribly wasted opportunity.
GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)
Dir: Wes Anderson
I was utterly intrigued by the trailers for this film when it first appeared. What on earth was it all about? (Which makes a change from those films which tell you all you need to know in the trailer, thus saving you from any grim duty of actually watching it). It is a delightfully quirky comedy, based apparently on the writings of Stefan Zweig (who wrote a brilliantly scathing biography of Marie Antoinette, check it out if you haven’t already). Ralph Fiennes plays a camp hotel concierge, who has a habit of befriending rich old ladies. When one of them (Tilda Swinton) dies, her greedy and ruthless family are determined to get their hands on a priceless painting which she has left to our hero. Sometimes the relentless eccentricity of the entire film can get a bit wearying, but on the whole this is a well-made, funny, sad, and enjoyably bonkers production. There are surreal, cartoon-ish moments, such as the prison-break sequence, and all the oddball characters, even the ones only seen fleetingly, are captivating. I particularly liked the idea of the Cross Keys group, a Masonic-style organisation of hotel concierges! And not since ‘The Shining’, has a big, rambling hotel been showcased quite so brilliantly.
THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963)
Dir: John Sturges
I don’t expect I need to say much about this one, as it’s been a staple ingredient of British Bank Holiday/Christmas telly for as long as I can remember, but that might just be because it’s a damn good film. The plot is very simple, dozens of Allied prisoners plan to escape from a German POW camp during WW2. There’s an all-star cast boasting Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, David McCallum, Gordon Jackson, James Garner, Donald Pleasence and numerous others. There are many great scenes, including possibly the most famous one of Steve McQueen on a motorbike getting caught up in barbed wire. Always well worth a watch. Also boasts one of the most famous theme tunes from any British movie, and one that you often hear whenever England are playing in the World Cup!
THE GREAT ST TRINIAN’S TRAIN ROBBERY (1966)
Dirs: Sidney Gilliat & Frank Launder
Not exactly on a par with the fondly-remembered Alastair Sim/Joyce Grenfell ones of the 1950s, but still an enjoyable bit of fun, helped enormously by Frankie Howerd, who plays one of a band of crooks planning a bullion theft, only to find that the loot is stored at the notorious girls’ school. Dora Bryan may be no match for the delicious Mr Sim in drag, but she puts in a full and fruity turn as the colourful headmistress who is constantly short of funds.
THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1903)
Dir: Edwin S Porter
No, not Ronnie Biggs and Co, but the film that is usually regarded as the very first Western. Made in 1903, the film is fascinating these days for being made at a time when the Wild West was still in existence. The plot is simple, and does exactly what it says on the tin. A bunch of rogues hold up a train, rob the passengers, and then make off into the woods with their loot. It’s worth watching for the superb ending, when a hard-faced ruffian faces us head-on and fires his gun directly at the camera. All sorts of urban legends surround this scene. It must have been a shocking thing to witness for an audience still new to cinema. Tales abound of people fainting, or fleeing in terror, or even firing back! Some regard it as the inspiration for the pistol-shot opening to the James Bond films.
GRIZZLY MAN (2005)
Dir; Werner Herzog
I brought this largely because of a longstanding fascination with Alaska, but I quickly became engrossed with the story of Timothy Treadwell, an idealistic young American who became obsessed with bears. Werner Herzhog’s film-length documentary is rightly very highly regarded. He doesn’t flinch from showing Treadwell’s flaws as well as his achievements. Treadwell comes across as a very likeable, good-humoured, but impossibly high-minded young man, who simply refused to see things as they really are. Perhaps in some ways it was darkly inevitable that he would come to a doomed ending. He refused to return home at the end of the Summer in Alaska, and instead found himself in the “bear maze”, where he was mauled to death by one of his beloved creatures. To compound the tragedy, his girlfriend Amy also met the same fate. Herzhog wisely doesn’t play us the recording of this, and he advises a close friend of Treadwell’s to never listen to it either. That would have been too much. I’m also fascinated by the character of the enigmatic Amy. Very little is known about her, and Treadwell himself tried to keep her out of film footage and pictures, as he wanted to perpetuate the image of himself as the rugged sole survivor in the wilderness. I’ve read justifiable criticism of Treadwell for not only causing his own death, but hers as well. Yes, I think that’s fair to say, but Treadwell is still an engaging character, even if you do want to give him a good shake at times. There’s not much you can do with sentimental, idealistic people, particularly ones as stubborn as him. This is a beautiful, albeit ultimately tragic film, which thoroughly deserves all the praise it has garnered. ADDENDUM: I recently read a review of ‘Grizzly Man’ which speculated that Treadwell must have been gay. This is alluding to a bit in the film where a lonely Treadwell speculates that he would have made a good homosexual, but that he preferred the girls. The reviewer seemed to think that Treadwell’s familiarity with men’s loo’s and truck stops as cottaging places gave the game away. Well, to be honest, you don’t have to be a gay man to know about such things these days! The reviewer also points to Treadwell’s general excitability as a sign. Well again, plenty of straight men can get excitable and emotional, so that’s a bit of a simplistic theory. Nevertheless, whatever the truth of the matter, it only confirms what a fascinating, complex character Treadwell was.
GUEST HOUSE PARADISO (1999)
Dir: Adrian Edmondson
This is a bit of a guilty secret this one (or not-so-secret, now it’s on this blog). I’ve seen it rated as The Worst Film Ever Made. There’s probably a good case to argue for that one, but I would rank a truly bad film as one that wild horses wouldn’t make me ever watch again, not unless I was strapped to a chair and had my eyes peeled back, like Malcolm McDowell in ‘A Clockwork Orange’, and that isn’t the case with this one. I think it helps if you’re a fan of Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson. I am, and I loved ‘Bottom’, which still makes me laugh 20 years on. It’s gross, lavatorial humour, which to be honest isn’t usually my thing, but I love these guys so much I don’t care. They are aces at slapstick comedy, and watching some of their antics it’s easy to see how they’ve managed to get themselves put in hospital a few times! Anyway, the plot (as it were): Our heroes are running a guest-house, (situated next to a nuclear reactor), in which a comely French actress takes refuge from her selfish lover (the sexy Vincent Cassels, which is another bonus for me, but it’s probably not a film he wants recorded on his CV!). Cue lots of sex-starved jokes about Rik and Eddy finding themselves with a pretty girl on their hands. It’s predictable, it’s not remotely high-brow, and some may find it an offensive waste of time. The final part of the film, which outdoes ‘The Exorcist’ for its use of projectile vomiting admittedly is too much even for me, but up until then I found it hilarious. The wonderful Fenella Fielding also pops up as one of the boys’ resident guests, a dotty old lady called Mrs Foxfur. I watched the dvd extras where Fenella talks about the film, and she clearly loved doing it. It’s undemanding fun, but it might put you off your dinner. ADDENDUM: Sadly, Rik Mayall died whilst I’ve been putting this blog together. I don’t think there are many celebrities whose passing has affected me quite so much. RIP.