Saturday, 29 September 2012

Sheer Bliss?

One of the pleasures of a weblog like this is the ongoing excuse to finally get around to watching films that you may have owned for years but never actually seen. Films like ‘Madhouse’, in fact.
Hammy veteran horror actor Vincent Price stars as hammy veteran horror actor Paul Tombs. Tombs may be a psychotic killer, but he can’t remember and the Police don’t have any proof – all they know is that his fiancĂ© had her head cut off in mysterious circumstances and he had a complete nervous breakdown, so they have their suspicions. In jolly old Britain to stage a TV comeback, Tombs is dismayed to find that the people around him are being bumped off in unpleasant ways, and only his old friend Peter Cushing doesn’t think he’s the culprit. The truth, of course, is much, much weirder…  
A rather good, civillised slasher with lashings of Gothic and a large pinch of Giallo, ‘Madhouse’ is enlivened by numerous clips from Price’s horror resume, as well as wry, solid performances from the two leads. Sort of a conflation of ‘Theatre of Blood’ and ‘Dr Phibes’, ‘Madhouse’ isn’t hugely original, but it is good fun, and the denouement is gleefully ridiculous. Good stuff - I should have watched it ages ago.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Nightmare Journey

For about 45 minutes, 'Horror Express' is really, really cool, before degenerating into chaotic tedium. A bit of what I like to call a Europudding (i.e. a complicated production, usually made on the continent) it has British stars, a French script, a Spanish director and an American producer and guest star. Oh, and it's set in China and Russia (although not filmed there).

It's 1906. Fossil hunter Christopher Lee (rubbish, he just keeps 'tutting' at everyone) discovers a two million year old man-ape hybrid frozen in a cave in Manchuria and decides to take it home to England. What he doesn't realise (how could he?) is that his artefact is actually an alien who can survive indefinitely simply by transferring himself into other creatures, including humans. Before you can say 'it's a bit like The Thing, innit?' the horrible, hairy creature is loose in the confines of an express train, killing people by sucking their minds dry with its single pulsating red eye, and making life very difficult for Lee and Peter Cushing (another scientist who, coincidentally, has caught the same train).

For a while, it's pretty tense, but it soon runs out of steam (sorry) once the original monster has been dispatched and it takes human form - and it jumps the proverbial shark completely when Cushing & Lee make slides of gunk from its eyes and see visual memories of a Brontosaurus and a Pterodactyl floating around under the microscope.

Just when you think it's hit rock bottom, Telly Savalas turns up. Now I have a massive amount of time for Aristotelis, but this is not his finest hour at all - he's rotten in it, and his appearance is so perfunctory you wonder why he even bothered (oh yeah - money). there's a brief hurrah at the end with a load of living dead cossacks and a toy train crash but, really, after the excitement of the start, it's an awful disappointment.

Anyway, the music is good, and at least half of the film is excellent, so it's not a complete write off. Here's the end theme, by John Cacavas, a kitchen sink job, part Spaghetti Western, part Rosemary's Baby, part Barbarella.

Saturday, 15 September 2012


'Stop Me Before I Kill' is an effective psychological thriller about a racing driver called Alan Colby who, after a car crash, finds himself really pissed off all the time and compulsively wanting to strangle his new wife, Denise.As she is played by the gorgeous Diane Cilento this seems hard to take, especially as he also avoids all physical contact with her. The boy's a fool.

Whilst on a belated honeymoon in the south of France, a smooth gallic psychiatrist takes an interest in Alan's case, and, especially, in his wife. Can the slightly creepy doctors radical methods cure Alan, or will they kill Denise?

Intriguing to the last, the film is perhaps most notable for a very angry performance from Ronald Lewis, and a very sexy one from the former Mrs. Connery. Occasionally quite explicit for 1960 in terms of sex and gore, it manages to keep you guessing and entertained and slightly turned on, all at the same time. Quite an achievement.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Space 1999: The Beta Cloud

'The Beta Cloud' was originally transmitted in 1977. A hostile alien cloud wants to rob Moonbase of its life support systems, so it incapacitates most of the crew and then sends a seemingly indestructible monster to nick everything. Tony is unaffected by the cloud so spends the whole episode trying to kill the invader, easier said than done as it is impervious to lasers, rockets and electricity and can live in a vacuum.

The monster looks exactly like one of the aliens that Maya turned into a couple of episodes previously (see 'Space Warp') which throws up some interesting questions, like why doesn't anyone recognise it and just how small was the costume budget? In the end, Maya turns into a bee and crawls into its ear and, recognising it for a robot, buzzes around its circuit board until it malfunctions.

Notable for the fact that Tony spends the best part of three quarters of an hour trying to knock out the menace but ends up on the floor with a broken arm and leg as his girlfriend easily finishes it off in about thirty seconds, it also features far too many shots of Commander Koening and Nick Tate in skimpy silk kung fu style pyjamas for my liking, although lady viewers or lovers of body hair may disagree.

Throughout the episode, I couldn't quite work out who Tony Anholt / Verdeschi reminded me of. Right at the end, it struck me: Alan Partridge in space.    

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Derren Nesbitt, Actor

Our old pal Derren Nesbitt turns up in under-rated 1972 espionage thriller 'Innocent Bystanders' as Andrew Royce, a British spy intent on giving colleague Stanley Baker a kicking.

Stanley Baker beats him up, of course, he's Stanley Baker.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Sexually Rampant Ghouls

US director Andy Milligan (1929 – 1991) is something of a legend in exploitation circles, a sort of mod Ed Wood. His films, half of which are lost, veer crazily between sex and horror and sleaze and are characterised by low budgets, poor acting and the stilted awfulness that signals the disconnect between ambition and talent.  But he made about thirty films, and you have to applaud his resolve, not to mention his sheer bloody nerve.  
‘The Body Beneath’ (1970) was one of several films Milligan made in London in the late sixties. It’s basically a retelling of ‘Dracula’ but with some very soft porn elements and an interesting twist: the vampires all belong to the same family, and the head vampire is obsessed with refreshing the degenerating blood line. It isn’t what you’d call a good film but I’ve seen a lot worse. A lot, lot worse. The basics are there: some fantastic locations (‘filmed in the graveyards of England’), occasionally  interesting camera angles and some halfway decent performances (Gavin Reed is particularly notable as Algernon Ford, the chief blood sucker, although he does remind me a lot of Reece Shearsmith from ‘The League of Gentlemen’). There’s a bit of sex, a splash of gore and a hunchback has his hands nailed to a post before being set on fire.
Strangely for this sort of film it isn’t at all boring (it’s too choppy for that), although the script makes no sense and the climactic party of the undead is rendered fairly incomprehensible by an optical effect that detracts from the action. The green faced vampires are nice, however, and, overall, it’s an interesting attempt at reinterpreting the vampire mythology on a shoestring budget and a soupcon of talent.     

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Power Of The Witch

'The Power Of The Witch' is a typically grown up, intellectual, non prurient documentary about the dark arts from the glory days of the BBC. Here's the whole thing, courtesy of something called 'YouTube'.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Secret Rituals

Nice advert for 'Legend Of The Witches' (1970). If you like exposed flesh and genitalia, you're into the occult and you have a limitless attention span, this could be your 'Star Wars'.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Mystery & Imagination: Dracula

‘Mystery and Imagination’ was an ITV series that run from 1966 to 1970. Frustratingly, only eight of the twenty four episodes still exist, and the lost programmes include several M.R James adaptations.

Accentuating the positive, however, we still have the one where Denholm Elliott played Dracula. I expect you're rubbing your eyes now, but it's true. It’s an interesting casting decision, but Denholm turns in his usual reliable, professional, slightly sleazy performance, largely unhampered by a mouthful of teeth.