The Amazing Adventures of Dwarf


I can’t, somehow, quite love this film. It’s maybe too cold and nasty. But I definitely admire it. When you consider how lacklustre and free of imagination most British horror movies always were (I still dig them though), this movie offers a real plethora of tawdry delights. It’s made by Anthony Balch, an associate of Kenneth Anger and William Burroughs, and while it’s mild fayre compared to the mind-bending squalor found within the pages of The Naked Lunch, there’s still much in the way of weirdness and unpleasantries.

I love the anecdote from Hammer scribe Christopher Wicking, quoted on Wikipedia: “I had a crazy meeting with him, when he wanted to do some picture or other. He spent most of the time walking across the furniture. Languorously, he would walk across three or four chairs. He went into another little world. He was a sad figure in a way, because he was well before his time.”

After a bizarro softcore sex film, SECRETS OF SEX, Balch launched his assault on the mainstream with HORROR HOSPITAL, in which Robin Askwith, the enthusiastically pumping buttocks in nine billion soft-porn comedies of depressing aspect (he redeems himself with a spirited turn in BRITANNIA HOSPITAL, which is almost a sequel to this one) plays, well, himself, a jobbing young actor, sent by his deeply queer agent (a dissipated Dennis Price, phoning it in via three camera set-ups stretched out to last five minutes of screen-time) to a country house clinic where mutilated nazi Michael Gough is attempting to create a lobotomised sex army for reasons we needn’t go into. Seriously, I’m refusing to go into his reasons. Don’t push me. I don’t want to talk about it.

And All That Gough

He also rides the countryside in a swank Roller with DEATH RACE 2000 modifications — blades shoot out to decapitate stray ramblers. I bet if Rolls Royce manufactured those they’d sell like hot cakes. The limo plus motorcycle outriders (the guys in this clip) are a nod to Cocteau’s ORPHEE.

The great scene above comes near the end, where tradition and reason dictate that horror thrillers should accelerate their pace and head for some kind of climax. The generous Mr. Balch offers us an alternative to that trusted formula, paralysing his film for minutes on end while a small man tries to open a door.


16 Responses to “The Amazing Adventures of Dwarf”

  1. Balch also made the short film Towers Open Fire in collaboration with his then-boyfriend William Burroughs. Worth seeking out.

  2. I bet.
    Maybe part of my problem with Horror Hospital is it’s just not beautiful enough formally. It references Cocteau and aspires to a kind of style, but it’s sorta grungy and low-fi. Plus it’s not abstract enough — it’s a narrative drama with conventional characters, but it’s not really very interested in those things.
    But it’s still ahead of most of the competition. I’d rank it with Scream and Scream Again, scripted by Wicking, which has an ambitious structure and was admired by Lang (although whether he was still able to see when he admired it is another question).

  3. Oh I LOVE Scream and Scream Again ! It’s the closest thing to a British equivalent of The Saragossa Manuscript.

  4. Yes, amazing narrative. I also like how the police are so horrible and stupid in it. Just for a change, you know. And the slowly dismembered jogger is one of the few really really upsetting things in British horror. The poor man!

  5. Chris B Says:

    Did somebody say Balch? Yes, hello, yes, yes, hello, yes, yes, hello, hello, yes, yes, hello, yes, yes, hello, look at that picture, yes, hello… oh! I never tire of that.

  6. What’s that from?
    I just watched Towers Open Fire on YouTube, which is not quite the same as ACTUALLY watching it, of course. But it was pretty great. It evokes all sorts of stories or fragments of stories in your mind.
    I wish somebody would release Secrets of Sex. You can see most of the other softcore junk of the period, but that one might be genuinely interesting. Lacking a single narrative might be helpful for Balch, too.

  7. Chris B Says:

    It’s from Balch’s masterpiece, THE CUT-UPS:

  8. Chris B Says:

    Too many repetitions in my previous post, heh. The short actually runs for 20 MINUTES as opposed to the 3 in the youtube link above. I saw this on a 16mm print during an avant-garde lecture at university, it plays with Burrough’s “dream machine and “cuts up” repetitious verbal formalities whilst throwing us into Kuleshov’s “creative geography” (Burrough’s walking into 3 cities).

  9. David Bordwell mentions the Kuleshov stuff on his blog today and links to an interesting Errol Morris interview with some guys obsessed by the psychology of continuity mistakes.
    Enjoyed that snipet of The Cut-Ups. Hilarious for about a minute, then just trippy. I tried to make myself a Brion Gysin dream machine once but I couldn’t get a bright enough light into the thing.

  10. I actually saw both The Cut Ups and Towers Open Fire at a screening at the Tate a few years ago, introduced by Iain Sinclair. As you can imagine, The Cut Ups on a big screen is a fairly daunting proposition, but I thought it was worth the experience. The same wouldn’t be said by the gentleman sitting some way to the left of me who had his hands over his eyes and was rocking back and forth by the end of the showing. There was a nice handout of stuff about Balch that went along with the event too – I must see if I still have that lurking about somewhere.

  11. I’m not expert on experimental stuff, but I would leap at the chance to see The Cut Ups in full now that I’ve had a taster. If you find the hand-out and scan it, I’ll run it!

  12. If you can play Region 1 DVDs Synapse Films released Secrets of Sex a couple of years ago under its ‘Bizarre’ title! It also includes a commentary with Tom Weaver and Richard Gordon and The Cut Ups and Towers Open Fire!

  13. I think I know where it is, so I’ll try and search it out. If I remember rightly it also has alist of the films that Balch distributed, including Freaks and the dubbed version of Haxan. Horror Hospital and Secrets of Sex were apparently intended to provide Balch with some experience directing before he tried his hand at The Naked Lunch. You can only imagine how that would have turned out!

  14. That’s great, guys!
    I think I will put Bizarre on my birthday list.

  15. Okay – sorted. Send me an email at douglas (at) amd Ill get the scans to you by reply.

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