Archive for The Doctor and the Devils

Cave

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 23, 2009 by dcairns

That’s “cave” in the Latin sense, of course, meaning “beware.” Beware of TROG, one of the worst films I’ve yet sat through as part of my demented quest to experience every morsel of terror and ennui suggested by the photo-illustrations within Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies.

TROG it was, of course, that inspired a young John Landis to try his hand at film-making, on the basis that he would be bound to make a better movie than TROG.

Controversial question: has he done so yet?

(I think he has, and would cite AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON as a really tip-top genre piece with a jolly pleasing touristic view of England. I’m just being what you might call provocative. I’ve still to see Landis’s debut, the directly TROG-inspired comedy SCHLOCK.)

What makes TROG the more deplorable, more than its puerile screenplay, wooden supporting cast, more than the lip-smacking yet deeply rubbish performance from Michael Gough (working with material, it should be admitted, that would strike less courageous [or foolhardy] actors with mutism and paralysis through its sheer awfulness), more than the ape-man himself, who has a serviceable prosthetic ape-face, attached to a hairless, chubby body which is rather noticeably a different colour — more than any of this, the film should be regarded with terror and pity because it’s the last movie ever to star Joan Crawford.

Yep.

It also ended director Freddie Francis’s directing career, or nearly. It made him want to stop directing films (he returned to his first love, cinematography, with excellent results). In fact, FF carried on helming turkeys for another five years, and even made a comeback in 1985, murdering the late Dylan Thomas’s fine script of THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS. If Thomas had been alive to see that, or if the film’s bodysnatchers had dug him up and anatomist Timothy Dalton had somehow revived him from his earthy slumber, I don’t know what he would have done. Probably got drunk — which is the best way to approach TROG, I would suggest. Some have suggested that was the only way Joan could get through acting in it.

Yet, stone-cold sober I viewed the atrocity, in which badly-acted spelunkers are mauled by a neanderthal in a cave in Berkshire. Handy scientist  Dr Brockton (our Joan) goes down the hole with a tranquilizer gun and soon has “Trog” the apeman eating out of her hand. But local citizen Gough is up in arms about this “demon” devaluing housing prices, or something, so he breaks in to the lab one night and sets it free. Makes sense.

Cue amusing mayhem, ketchup for blood, dead bodies that visibly breathe, and a car that explodes just because Trog rolls it over. There’s a great scene where he wrestles a German shepherd that looks like its having the time of its life. A hint of the wretchedness herein can be gleaned from the fact that the world-class surgeon they get in to give Trog the power of speech (!) is played by Robert Hutton, last seen hereabouts revivifying the head of Nostradamus in THE MAN WITHOUT A BODY.

Is Trog’s head really stolen from 2001, as somebody suggests? I suspect it might be. It has the same nicely articulated lips. Of course, the guys in 2001 were lucky enough to get costumes that continued from the neck down. Certainly stolen from Irwin Allen’s THE ANIMAL WORLD is the lengthy sequence of fighting dinosaurs, psychedelically tinted, which stands for Trog’s flashback to his prehistoric youth (he’s been frozen underground for trillennia). The Willis O’Brien/Ray Harryhausen animation is the only real touch of class in the film, but stops the plot dead because it has nothing to do with anything in the story. I will pass over in silence the grave scientific error in presenting T-Rex and Trog as contemporaries.

(Allen’s nature film was so completely cannibalized for stock footage, that it’s thought that no complete print survives — although the animation is intact.)

Are there any other pleasures to be had in this mess of potage? I sort of liked the way all the younger actors just look as if they’re really chuffed at being in a film with Joan Crawford. I liked Trog’s strange grunts — his repeated cry of “Ugh!” would make a great capsule review for the movie. The bad dialogue should have been funny, but was mostly annoying — writer Aben Kandel (which looks like an anagram, but for what? Banned Leak? — the same chump worked on KONGA and CRAZE for the same wretched producer, Herman Cohen) — the fact that the writer doesn’t know a flashlight from a flashbulb, and that nobody corrected him, is just slightly dismaying.

Overall, the movie sort of makes you wish this had happened, for real, when they were shooting it ~

Now you can rush over to Amazon and buy this, as I know you’ll want to –

Trog

Edinburgh, 1828…

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2008 by dcairns

Thanks to actor Ricky Callan for posting this one of YeTube (the Scottish YouTube).

I really wanted the credit “book and lyrics” on this one but somehow didn’t get it. Makeup FX supremo Stephen (SLEUTH) Murphy conceived the idea for a musical about Edinburgh’s best-loved mass-murderers (they didn’t really rob graves, they found it easier to manufacture their own corpses) and I volunteered to write it with alacrity.

The first voice you hear is that of Ronnie Corbett, the little Nazi in the original CASINO ROYALE, who lives outside Edinburgh. I’m afraid we wrote a less vulgar version of the script in order to secure his services, which he gave out of the goodness of his heart. Once we’d recorded his VO we stuck all the swearing back in.

Ricky Callan plays William Hare, with Sandy Nelson (Mel Gibson’s brother in BRAVEHEART!) as William Burke. Stephen Murphy directed, handled most of the producing, oversaw the special makeup requirements, and wrote the score.

It’s all shot on location except for Burke and Hare’s rooming house, a little set built in Edinburgh College of Art’s boxy wee TV studio. And the front door of same, which is a miniature (as becomes clear when it’s destroyed — we shot the destruction in slow motion but not slow enough).

Apart from my writing services, I appear as an extra in the hanging scene (far left at 7:57, wearing a wig and pulling a funny face) and did a fair bit of editing on it. Editing dance is tough, especially when you have no coverage (not incompetence, just a limited budget) and everything must be cut to the music, and the choreography is differently timed from one shot to the next.

Another problem was a camera malfunction during the hanging scene — the sound had no firm synchronisation with the picture. So I synched (or “sunk”, as we say) the middle of each shot. As the shot starts, it’s slightly out-of-whack, but just as the audience starts to notice, it goes back into step with the image. Then it starts to drift out, but just as the audience becomes aware of it, we cut to the next shot. Genius.

That was a strange day. Pretty much the start of the shoot, the biggest scene (building a gallows outside St Giles Cathedral on Edinburgh’s High Street, with buses going by in the back of out-takes) and as we set up the news came in of the school shooting in Dunblane. Some anonymous asshole member of the public saw fit to castigate us for our bad taste in filming a death scene on this terrible day,as if we’d planned the events to coincide.

Other locations: the graveyard at the start (I thought it was important to show B&H failing as resurrectionists, even though there’s no evidence they ever tried it, but most people associate them with grave-robbing) is Greyfriar’s Churchyard, resting place of William Topaz McGonagall (the world’s worst poet) and the famous Greyfriar’s Bobby. It can also be seen right at the start of Robert Wise and Val Lewton’s THE BODY SNATCHER, in a travelogue shot swiftly followed by a studio mock-up.

The dark alleyway is Advocate’s Close, I think. While scouting all the narrow side-streets off the Royal Mile, we found the more spacious close that serves as our main street scene. It had very few modern features to hide, and was a cul-de-sac which we could completely take over.

Stephen and Mhairi, his producer, managed to get some fairly posh place to serve as Dr. Knox’s house, and a disused bar which could easily be rendered 19th century — in fact, since the modern fixtures had been stripped out, that’s basically what it was.

Morag McKinnon, director of forthcoming feature ROUNDING UP DONKEYS, cameos as Bess the prossie. As soon as she heard there was a character of that name, she wanted to play it. I seem to recall writing a series of completely foul couplets before settling on the relatively innocuous ones used. It was worth it to make people laugh. Stephen wanted to have naked corpses on slabs, to “enhance the production values,” so Morag was induced to denude. Both Stephen and I regretted it in the end, since the combination of nudity, death, and rude humour maybe touches on the uncomfortable.

Here’s one of my pal Simon Fraser’s drawings for the end creds, which deserves to be enjoyed at fuller resolution than YeTube can supply:

Simon is a successful comic book artist and illustrator of high-class lesbian pornography.

And here’s the actual death-mask of William Burke:

Whatever you think of our little playlet, (sharp-eyed observers may spot swipes from homages to Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher and Dylan Thomas’s The Doctor and the Devils) I can assure you that our version really is one of the most historically accurate accounts of the B&H affair, with only the omission of the killers’ wives, and the precise circumstances of their arrest, being somewhat at odds with exact verisimilitude.

Oh, and the singing.

Born. Lived. Interrupted.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 16, 2008 by dcairns

Shadowplayer and Nicholas Ray associate Tom Farrell writes ~

“Nick Ray died on June 16,1979, here with daughter Julie and wife Betty in 1960.”

Seems apt that I received this just after posting a piece on the Dylan Thomas film — at one point Ray was going to film Dylan Thomas’ Edinburgh-set screenplay THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS, with James Mason and Barbara Steele. Looking at the Freddie Francis version that eventually got made, or at the new Thomas movie, for all its virtues of craft and decency, is a good reminder of why we need impassioned, ungovernable geniuses like Ray in the cinema today.

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