Monday, 31 October 2011

Halloween III: The Season Of The Witch

In 1981, eager to turn his 'Halloween' franchise into more than just a series of slasher films, director / producer John Carpenter approached Nigel Kneale for a script for a third, Michael Myers-less story to diversify the brand.

Kneale came up with a typically interesting tale about a respected captain of industry, a toy maker, who is secretly a Druid. His crazed plan, which involves a stolen chunk of Stonehenge, is to return Halloween to its original status: a pagan celebration of darkness and evil, and he is prepared to use his toys (specifically latex masks which are marketed as the must have Halloween accessory) to kill millions of children to make his point.

Hollywood being what it is, of course, several changes were made to the original script, most of which inserted the obvious shocks and scares that Nigel always tried to avoid, as well as some explicit violence. Not surprisingly, Nigel asked that his name be removed from the credits and disassociated himself from the project, although it turned out to be pretty good, considering, although most of the best bits are obviously derived directly from Nigel's initial ideas.

I've often wondered what the film would have been like if Carpenter had the courage of his convictions and alowed Nigel to take the series to the next level, especially as I find it enjoyable and interesting in its compromised form which leads me to think that, un-fucked about with, it could have been a masterpiece. As it was, the film found little favour with Michael Myers fans and failed to atract a new audience, effectively killing the franchise for several years. Shame.

Happy Halloween to all our readers. Don your Silver Shamrock masks now!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Five Million Years To Earth

'Quatermass & The Pit' starts as it means to go on, with a shock discovery which becomes ever more shocking upon further investigation. Yet nothing about this film is sensational for sensation's sake, although many of its ideas are startling.

It begins in the underground station at Hobbes End, where a gang of builders are working on an extension to the Central Line. Work halts when they discover an anthropoidal skull and other remains buried in the mud. Archaeologists are called in, and the bones are dated as five million years old. Further excavations uncover another embedded object of a similar vintage - a Martian spaceship, complete with a long dead crew of locust like aliens...

'QATP' is a real slow burner of a film, imbued with Kneale's sharp intelligence and subtle but strong direction from Roy Ward Baker. The narrative unfolds carefully, logically, priming the viewer for the next twist, the next amazing revelation. Kneale's excellent screenplay (adapted from his 1958 TV version) includes several of his favourite themes: a scientific explanation for the seemingly supernatural; the distant past (or in 'The Road', the future) haunting the present, and the awesome power of the unknown. It's a fantastic piece of work - in fact, it's probably my favourite film, and I've seen quite a few, believe me. 

Quatermass & The Pit


Saturday, 29 October 2011

Why Won't They Talk About It?

‘The Witches’ is a bit of a missed opportunity, but it has some interesting moments which remind you that Nigel Kneale was behind the original adaptation, although, in a familiar story, the producers buffed off the awkward edges that would potentially have been the best bits.
Joan Fontaine plays Gwen Mayfield, a school teacher who is recovering from a nervous breakdown from her time in Africa, where she pissed off the local witch doctor and had a bit of a voodoo nightmare. Still fragile, she relocates to the quiet village of Heddaby, expecting a nice, sorcery free life. Unfortunately for her, the bucolic hamlet is actually a hotbed of witchcraft, white and black, and, before you can say ‘Hail Satan!’ she finds herself  under threat from the local coven.
Kneale’s original screenplay apparently satirised the notion of modern day witches (he saw them as a self-indulgent, rather pathetic anachronism in the 20th century) but there’s none of that sharp, bitter humour in the film. Instead, it’s played dead straight and, unfortunately, dead slow, only really sparking into life in the coven scenes when we are presented with the spectacle of a dozen middle aged character actors stomping around trying to convey being lost in a reverie to the dark, ancient forces that have possessed them.
The relationship between Kneale and Hammer is one of the big ‘what it?’ stories of British genre cinema: Kneale had the material, Hammer the means of production but their collaborations were limited to adaptations of work either originally written by Kneale for TV or, in the case of ‘The Witches’ from another writer. I’m hugely grateful for the Hammer Quatermass films, and ‘The Abominable Snowman’ (I’m even grateful for ‘The Witches’) but the thought of what Hammer could have done with, say, ‘The Road’, ‘The Stone Tape’ or even ‘1984’is a mouth watering one – and it’s a  huge shame that it never came to pass. 

The Witches

My Hero

Nigel Kneale died five years ago today. To describe him as a pivotal figure in British film and television is like saying that Francis Bacon could paint a bit. Kneale was a genius, pure and simple, and was responsible for some of the cleverest, most inventive, thought provoking and terrifying stories of all time.

When I think about Nigel, about a million things all jostle to the front of my head at once, and I find it hard to present a reasoned summary of why his work is so important. All I can say is that I love him, I miss him, and then try and piece together a very inadequate tribute to his brilliance.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Valerie Leon, Psychiatric Patient

Valerie Leon is Miss Ibbotson in an episode of the largely (justly) forgotten 1973 sitcom 'Bowler'. Britain's favourite Bulgarian, the recently deceased George Baker, played the title role, a rich and vulgar cockney wide boy who is trying to better himself. In this episode, Bowler attends a psychiatrist, seen here with Valerie. Underneath the groovy clothes and ginger wig is Michael Sheard, aka Hitler / Mr. Bronson from Grange Hill.

Filmed in front of a live audience, Valerie's brief appearance is marked by an audible 'ooh' and, brilliantly, a  low, slow whistle of appreciation.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

I Drinks It All of The Day

More high quality edutainment from Jack Hargreaves. This is a clip from 1977 - Punk and the Jubilee are all very well, but what about the 'zider? Super stuff, and a drinking game in the making, simply take a swig every time they do.

Good luck with that.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Scary Faces Of The Sweeney

This mask has a pointy noise. Nasty. From 'Chalk & Cheese'. Shane Briant's under there. Nasty.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Your Music Is Nothing

In 'The Shout', John Hurt's character is an avant garde electroacoustic composer. He has a fantastic studio set up, and seems to spend most of his day messing about making funny noises. I envy him, and he's married to Susannah York.

I'll Shout You Dead

This is genuinely one of the most frightening and disturbing sequences in the history of cinema.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

High Volume Horror

'The Shout' is an intricate, multi-layered film, an enigmatic bundle of flashbacks that could simply be the ravings of a deranged mind. It's also really scary.

Charismatic drifter Alan Bates latches on to wet experimental composer John Hurt and follows him home. Bates claims to have spent several years in the Australian outback where the Aborigines taught him their darkest secrets, including a shouting technique that can kill. Hurt is intrigued and asks for a demonstration. What comes next is absolutely terrifying - not only does Bates let forth a fearsome, fatal cry, he also then assumes control over the frightened Hurt, taking over his house and the affections of his beautiful wife (Susannah York). There is something dark and primal about him, and the threat of his terrible power prevents Hurt from confronting him. It is only when Hurt realises the source of Bates' power that he can fight back, aided by the Police who are looking for Bates in connection with the murder of his family.

Powerful, troubling, and full of odd, unsettling touches, 'The Shout' is a masterpiece. Watch it, or I'll shout you dead.     

The Shout