Unbandaged

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The director had hiccups. A really bad case — they lasted days. It was a real problem because he might hiccup at any point, during a take, and ruin the sound. It became a running joke — the production hiccups.

Then one day he didn’t come in to the studio. He was dead. Apparently hiccups can be a sign of an approaching heart attack. Who knew?

With Seth Holt out of the picture, the picture was finished by the talentless Michael Carreras, the man who destroyed Hammer films with his terrible ideas and equally terrible ambitions to write, direct, produce, none of which he had the slightest knowledge of or capacity for. But BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB is still a pretty interesting show.

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It’s got Andrew Keir, the best film Quatermass, and James Villiers, and George “I was in CITIZEN KANE and now this” Coulouris, Aubrey Morris (Yay! P.R. Deltoid!) and Valerie Leon, known in the UK as the Hi Karate Woman. A fine actress with enormous juicy breasts.

The musique concrete is by Tristram Carey, who also scored THE LADYKILLERS, which Holt produced. He’s one of the very few filmmakers who worked at Ealing and Hammer, and he must have liked the dysfunctional family atmosphere — he might have fitted well into the BBC. Holt’s wife said that he and director Sandy Mackendrick should never have worked together, since rather than anchoring one another and compensating for their excesses, they hyped each other into a frenzy and made everything twice as crazy as it needed to be. Which is perhaps why THE LADYKILLERS is such a brilliantly extreme film. (Say, I’m writing a book about it, aren’t I?)

Kenneth Tynan wrote NOWHERE TO GO, consciously intended as the last Ealing picture (perhaps a good film to watch for this Blogathon!), a dark thriller which Holt served up with bracing savagery. TASTE OF FEAR, aka SCREAM OF FEAR, was Hammer’s best DIABOLIQUES knock-off, with the corpse sitting calmly at the bottom of the swimming pool destined to traumatize a young Tom Hanks when his mother, in a confused state, led him into the wrong cinema. Not BAMBI at all.

Holt’s best movie is surely THE NANNY, with a powerful and relatively controlled performance from Bette Davis, great work from the child actors, and a really gripping use of interior space — shot by Harry Waxman, who was always at his best in black and white (cf BRIGHTON ROCK). Davis described Holt as “a mountain of evil” or something, somewhat to the bafflement

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Late Hammer films are typically portraits of the disintegration of a stolid but efficient studio organisation, derailed by monumentally clueless management. TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER is actually really good, but the powers that be cut off the whole climax, leaving Christopher Lee and Satan apparently vanquished by a small pebble hurled at the Great Man’s dome by Richard Widmark. This one manages to hold back on the nudity apart from a couple of modest, not-too-distracting instances, and balances creepiness with camp in an unusual way. The asylum scene, with the maniacal flurry of canted angles and ludicrous toy cobra, was actually helmed by Carreras and it may be the only good thing he ever did — I’m inclined to credit Holt’s shooting plan or DoP Arthur Grant, who’d begun in quota quickies with Michael Powell and had worked at Hammer throughout their glory years –

UK: Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb [DVD] [1971]

US: Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb

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23 Responses to “Unbandaged”

  1. I was just watching The Ladykillers for the umpteeth time on TCM last night. Amazing to think that the same man directed Sweet Smell of Success — an entirely different sort of masterpiece. Do try and get in touch with Terence Davies for your book as he’s obsessed with The Ladykillers — “sampling” its soundtrack in The Long Day Closes.

    OFF-TOPIC: L.A. based Shadowplayers should be advised that I will be appearing at Book Soup tonight at 7 to sign copies of my latest Masters of Cinema: Roman Polanski and speak about Roman — the city’s most notable “structuring absence.”

  2. The thread connecting the comedy and the noir is surely Mackendrick’s love of Fritz Lang, whose expressionist-influenced way with composition and design influences both movies.

  3. They’re enormous AND juicy? My!

  4. At around 1:50 —

  5. I ♥ Holt, TASTE/SCREAM OF FEAR being one of my all-time favourite Hammers. THE NANNY’s pretty strong too. He could’ve been a contender.

    Right on about Michael Carreras sucking carpets as a director, though – SLAVE GIRLS/PREHISTORIC WOMEN is one of Hammer’s absolute worst.

    IMDb says Seth also helmed intriguing-sounding pot-boiler STATION SIX-SAHARA (1962) starring Carroll Baker, Ian Bannen and Denholm Elliott.

  6. Yes, I haven’t seen that or Danger Route, both of which I would think would be at least interesting.

    Carreras’ greatest sins are as writer — Creatures the World Forgot begins with the main characters being born, spends half an hour watching them grow up, and only then allows anything approaching a narrative to begin. You wouldn’t think a caveman flick with no dialogue would be that hard to script, but for a man who doesn’t actually understand what a story IS, I guess nothing comes easy. That the man has his name on the far superior One Million Years BC I put down to blatant credit-stealing.

    Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is as misshapen as its title. (Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb is obviously a dreadful title too. Not quite as bad as Face of the Screaming Werewolf, my all-time favourite, but close.)

  7. Station Six Sahara is Required Viewing. Marty Scorsese was the first person to turn me onto it cause he caught it when it opened in New York on Channel 42 (42nd street) as the bottom half of a double feature before any of our other friends did. It starts with men in desperate circumstances in the desert. Things are reaching a boiling point. Then out of nowhere an enormous luxury car shows up with Carroll Baker in it.

    Need one know more?

  8. Seth Holt is indeed underrated and Station 6 Sahara is one of his best.
    Here are my thoughts on what may be his finest work in a too-short career:
    http://trailersfromhell.com/trailers/672

  9. Thanks!

    Station Six Sahara sounds stupendous!

    Even Robert Aldrich came to feel that casting aging glamour icons as monsters was rather cruel, when you think about it. But Bette’s role in The Nanny is a proper character (even though she has no name), the kind of thing she might have jumped at during any stage of her career.

  10. What are you talking about? Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb is an EXCELLENT title! I always liked it, anyway.

    Watched Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte again recently, and thought Davis was actually rather good and touching in it. Though of course it helped that Agnes Moorehead was overacting like mad in a Worzel Gummidge wig, making everyone else seem restrained.

  11. Agnes was a powerhouse, and sometimes the current doesn’t flow in the right direction…

    Title: too complicated, and doesn’t add up to a coherent image. The only way I can parse it is as a veiled reference to the bloodline that extends from the grave to make Big Val an indirect heir…

  12. I imagine the ad copy for such a title…

    “The evil that could squeeze BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB!”

    Titles in the same vein:

    They fled in FEAR OF THE WEREWOLF’S FUR!

    There was no filling THE UNDYING CAVITY OF THE FANGS OF DRACULA!

  13. TASTE THE BROTH OF DRACULA
    THE TWO FACES AND SIXTY-FOUR TEETH OF DR JEKYLL
    KNEES OF THE RIPPER

  14. THE LURID LOBES OF DONOVANS BRAINPAN

  15. With a belated apostrophe, ‘natch!

  16. GRAMMAR HOUSE OF HORROR

  17. THE RETURN OF THE REVENGE OF THE OCCASIONALLY PERCEPTIBLE MAN

  18. But it totally makes for a coherent image! both in the “bloodlines” sense and in the sense of the mummy’s tomb unleashing lots of bloodletting.

    Should perhaps add that when I was a teenager, the word “blood” in the title of a film invariably got me excited. I don’t know whether this was bloodlust or some psychosexual menstruation-related thing, but it makes total sense to me that you would add the word “blood” to a title, even willy-nilly, purely to attract the attention of someone like me.

  19. But it could also mean blood being shipped out of the mummy’s tomb in a barrel (how did it get there? who does it come from?) or gushing out like the blood from the elevator in The Shining or dripping on the sarcophagus like the non-diegetic spatter at the start of the Hammer Dracula. It’s TOO multiguous!

    It makes commercial sense that a Hammer film ought to have blood in the title whenever possible, but it needs to be integrated. I detect the palsied hand of Carreras at work here.

  20. THE MAN WITH BLOODSHOT X-RAY EYES

  21. DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB AND VICE VERSA

  22. [...] Prevost’s final performance but sad evidence of the alcoholic star’s weight loss; and Cairns himself doing right by cult auteurists everywhere in crediting all the good stuff in Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb to Seth Holt—even the scenes [...]

  23. We’re lucky Hammer didn’t title it BOOBS FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB (you didn’t think Twins of Evil refered to siblings, did you?), not that that’d *necessarily* be off-putting. Still on the mammary theme, your comment on luscious Ms Leon’s “enormous juicy breasts” (period rival : Margaret Nolan) reminds me of the day after I first saw Blood; a friend at school asked me if I’d seen it but what did he mention? The disembodied hand? Day for night shooting? James Villiers at his slimiest? No. Valerie Leon’s magnificent balcony, which I of course had not noticed (he lied as convincingly as M. Gove conceals his android nature).
    Regardless of she looked in flimsy negligee or in an Egyptian jewelled breast-curtain, I thought Valerie was really quite good in this. To a lesser extent she was similar to Jane Asher in not getting the opportunities she deserved. That in turn recalls to me reading an interview with Helen Mirren – in the Radio Times! – in which the writer mentions her “sex queen” period and flatulently states that she wouldn’t have gotten “serious” parts when she was “known” for disrobing and being pulchritudinous which is such arrant bullshit as not only did she appear nude *in* serious parts (not the Confessions films!) but the idea that sexuality/eroticism and “seriousness” can’t go together is pathetic, denial of the joy of sex – apologies to Alex Comfort – and prudish disavowal of its naturalness hasn’t died I see. Fie I say. Can’t someone be both respected and incredibly sexually powerful? Duh. Of course. Strange world.
    Um, I really like B f t MT tho’! Ms Leon is very sympathetic which makes her fate all the more horrible. It’s a weird, atmospheric piece. And Aubrey Morris is always welcome.

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