Corpus Delecti

THE CORPSE, AKA CRUCIBLE OF TERROR, AKA (according to my fuzzy copy, hot-spliced randomly mid-film) THE VELVET ROOM — seems to be the only film directed, amid a slew of TV work, by somebody called Viktor Ritelis*, and written by actor Olaf Pooley (great name!). It’s a trippy, woozy thing, a quasi-feminist horror movie about family life (but, weirdly, the contorted brand of feminism on display seems very NOW).

It stars Michael Gough, plus his son and his daughter-in-law (Sharon Gurney, a typically weird/beautiful Ken Russell discovery, out of WOMEN IN LOVE but en route to DEATHLINE and then retirement), so it’s a family affair, about the awfulness of families. It starts strong, with creepy authoritarian dad Gough caressing his daughter’s still-warm bicycle saddle, and it doesn’t get any more comfortable from then on. For a while it seems to be sliding towards an archetypal LES DIABOLIQUES twist, as wife (Yvonne Mitchell, from QUEEN OF SPADES) and daughter stage a clumsy suicide for the patriarch, and indeed, nine-tenths of the story probably was filched from Clouzot, but the conclusion is MUCH more interesting that some Hammer knock-off. Depressing, maybe, but interesting.

In the seventies, dark shadows weren’t dark, they were a deep luminous blue, and they glowed. And at night, our faces were purple.

Lots of orange! The sure sign of a seventies film with its finger on the pulse. In this case, pressed so hard as to obstruct circulation and cause light-headedness.

Ritelis fucks up, big-style, with solarised 2001 dream sequences — completely pointless and by-the-numbers. Any movie using this technique that isn’t sci-fi goes straight in the bargain bin (thereby guaranteeing I’ll watch it at some point). I know, I know, GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE…

But the rest is so authentically stoned, with its draggy pace, low-affect perfs (Gurney is a particular stand-out here) and soft-focus rustic scenes, forgiveness is granted. The twisted, incestuous/sadistic relationships are creepily convincing, and the casting of real family members seems like a masterstroke. Sam Gough, as the snotty son Rupert, is shaping up to be a miniature monster version of his dad, Michael, who can be a little overeager, dials down the slavering perversion to a naturalistic level, which makes having him in your living room even more unsettling, even if he is behind a glass screen, and composed only of light. Mitchell is so withdrawn as to almost recede out the back of the set, while Gurney maintains a certain sly awareness — there’s all kinds of perversity implied in the father-daughter relationship, and a suggestion that she’s incorporated physical abuse into her sexuality — like I say, modern and disturbing.

In DEATHLINE, (AKA RAW MEAT) a really superb black-comic horror, Gurney and screen boyfriend David Ladd (son of Alan) seem rather outclassed by the more vigorous pairing of Donald Pleasence and Norman Rossington, who tear up the movie with their shenanigans. In fact, Ladd’s scenes with Pleasence are great, it’s only the writing of the lovers that let them down. Gurney, sporting the worst haircut in screen history, does score one brilliant moment, when a trip to see THE FRENCH CONNECTION is suggested: “Too violent,” she murmurs.

Again with that sly look.

*I recall seeing The Aphrodite Inheritance, one of Ritelis’ TV jobs, back in the eighties. As memory serves, that had a slightly weird feel to it also, even though it was nominally a Greek-set crime thriller with no obvious need to be peculiar. The end sequence had Greek gods turning up, as I recall. Deus ex machina…

32 Responses to “Corpus Delecti”

  1. Michael Gough has a son????!!!!

    I’m in total shock. I’d always he assumed he was otherwise inclined. Just shows how wrong you can be.

  2. Well, you never can tell. He now has an acting grandson also. “One of the most intelligent actors I ever met,” said our friend Lawrie. Which he also said about Marius Goring. Is that code?

  3. Kind of like Graham Norton introducing every guest as “My favorite comedian.”

  4. It’s possible that “my favourite” actually translates as “far better than me, the obnoxious and obscenely overpaid Graham Norton”.

    If so, I’d definitely go along with that.

    BTW, one guest who wasn’t his favourite anything was Raquel Welch, whom he described live on air as a “grumpy old bitch”.

  5. David W,
    My mother took care of RW when she was in the hospital for a procedure, and would have much to agree with GN about. Not the “old” part since it was in the ’80s, but the rest fits. She treated staff so badly that nobody wanted to be assigned to her.

  6. >>In the seventies, dark shadows weren’t dark, they were a deep luminous blue, and they glowed. And at night, our faces were purple.<<

    Maybe a naive question but, has anyone ever done a study of the chemical make up of film stock. I supposed it changed decade to decade.

    A while back. I saw a pristine print of "The Man With X-Ray Eyes". amazing color.

  7. Yes, I know Raquel is said to be the original bitch diva from Hell…but is Graham Norton that much better?!

  8. Norton presumably makes the effort to ingratiate himself with the people who matter — Raquel presumably failed to do that, which would make him see her as unprofessional. Most accounts I’ve read agree on that side of her.

    Tom, film stock indeed changes over time, and often the films themselves change as the film deteriorates. In the 70s, I think the effect I referred to was from colour TV, with the brightness and colour set too high. Somehow, the VHS recording of The Corpse preserves this effect in places.

  9. Graham Norton’s finest hour is still his (intentionally played) incredibly annoying and punchable character in a couple of the Father Ted episodes.

    I don’t object to Norton’s sycophancy too much, after all that is what attracted guests to his chat show. At which point he assaulted them with the more perverted aspects of human nature downloaded from the internet, leading to some wonderful reactions especially when the celebrities actually played along rather than sat stony faced with an expression that suggested they hadn’t actually looked at what the show involved before agreeing to appear on it.

    Of course this is back in the late 90s and early 2000s when Graham was still at Channel 4 and still ‘comfortingly edgy’, everything since the move to the BBC has been a disappointing retread of a once innovative talent sanitised and neutered for a mass audience at best, and at worst he has been through that ‘face of the channel’ period that they put almost every presenter through at one point or another where you couldn’t escape from him introducing almost every single programme from Andrew Lloyd Webber ‘talent’ shows to Eurovision to radio shows.

    In other words he’s followed the same career path as Danny Baker, Dale Winton or Jonathan Ross (or Anne Robinson and Gaby Roslin – let’s not forget the ladies!) – not untalented and unlikeable in their own rights but presenters pushed out of their comfort areas into an annoying, inescapable ubiquity, fronting programmes that are both demeaning and patronising. As well as fitting into various niche categories that let the BBC fulfil its remit (Norton replacing Terry Wogan on Eurovision just felt like a “we need another Irish voiceover for the show, preferably one who doesn’t mind camp kitsch this time, and fast!” situation)

  10. No idea there was so much Graham Antipathy in here!

  11. Funny how color is so influenced by times/ culture. In Harpers magazine a long time ago, there was a list of paint chart color names, going from decade to decade; 60’s colors all had “hippy”names, like psychedelic lemon; the 70’s, back to nature names, like prairie tan; the 80’s were Republican names, like Concord blue, etc.
    I visited the John Soane Museum in London recently, which is kept in its 1820’s state, with restorations, of course. The walls of one floor are painted a grey – ish pink color. The color, from the time period, is called “Dead Salmon”.

  12. I’ve never heard of Graham Norton, let alone seen him. Welch was one of a few celebrities in her hospital. A general rule was – Local celeb = bad news, local politician = worse news, NBA player, coach, or Hollywood celeb = intolerable.

  13. A cameraman once told me that in TV the “jumped-up DJs” were the worst. Former DJs who became presenters and thus “stars”.

  14. Somebody once told me the story of Daniel Radcliffe’s “discovery” — it OUGHT to be true. They were trawling the nation for Harry Potter. Every drama school for kids, every regular school. Huge open auditions. Finally the casting director came in, excited. “I’ve found him! And you’ll never guess — he’s my son!”

    Like I say, it ought to be true.

    Anyone who doesn’t know Graham Norton, I do urge them to check out Father Ted, as Colin suggests. GN is only in a couple, but he’s very good indeed.

  15. He is brilliantly off the wall in the few episodes that he appears in, playing a manic character that our priests unfortunately run into on a couple of occasions and try to exchange pleasantries with, but end up having to escape from! Which tragically is something that the troop of beaten down over time followers never have the opportunity to do!:

    “Let’s have a screaming contest! AAAAAAAAAA!!”

    And I would make a case for the first couple of Channel 4 series of his chat show, which frequently had the excitingly dangerous sense of threatening to tip over into total anarchy and offensiveness, something that the BBC series, although it apes many of the features of the Channel 4 show, would never be allowed to do. Plus the first couple of series build Norton’s Miles O’Keeffe obsession/attempt to rehabilite his image, so much so that the point at which the relatively obscure actor who starred at Tarzan in that Bo Derek film in the early 80s got an almost standing ovation when finally made an appearance!

  16. Sorry for the garbled last sentence, which should read:

    ..so much so that at the point at which the relatively obscure actor who starred as Tarzan in that Bo Derek film in the early 80s made an appearance, he almost got a standing ovation!

  17. Yeah, that show was pretty good. Seemed like every week some American star would be screaming “What kind of show IS this???” The Sophia Loren encounter was pretty funny too.

  18. Norton’s cameo in Father Ted is extraordinarily precise in its depiction of a particularly irritating type of Catholic priest. Non-Irish people always seem to think of the show as a surreal burlesque, whereas in fact it’s practically a documentary*, and the show’s creators were at least partly responsible for ending the iron grip of the Church in Ireland via pure ridicule.

    Well over a decade ago I showed it to a friend** from the former Yugoslavia and he was completely non-plussed, coming as he did from a culture where priests are revered freedom fighters under the bootheel of a repressive regime. I tried to explain it to him, and a lightbulb finally appeared over his head – “AH! I see! Priests in Ireland are like Communists in Serbia!”

    * without the sexually predatory behaviour of course.
    **You’ve met him, David – it was Milos!

  19. Christopher Says:

    LOVE Father Ted..

  20. Great story Paul!

  21. Indeed!

    How is Milos?

  22. Hmm. My mother has some rather tart things to say about priests in her former country, Yugoslavia.

    Hint: The phrase “freedom fighter” did not come up, but “Nazi collaborator” did.

  23. Clearly a generational thing. Some of those who suffered through communism look back nostalgically at the Nazis! Those with a clearer sense of perspective might still admire the priests for their later defiance rather than bearing a grudge over their earlier collaboration.

    One of the lessons of communism for me must be that repressing religion just doesn’t work. Regulated and taxing it like any other line of business would be smarter.

  24. Regulated and taxing it like any other line of business would be smarter./

    Just like heroin, in fact!

  25. The opiate of the masses. Yes, the two are very similar: habit-forming, very harmful in excess, pleasurable in moderation, hard to moderate (very more-ish), impossible to eliminate through prohibition. Criminalisation just imparts glamour. Treat hope-peddlers like dope-peddlers: keep a watchful eye on them and take half their money.

  26. The collaborators didn’t stay, though. They ended up fleeing the country for that place that was so inviting to other Nazis and fellow travelers. No, not Argentina, America.

  27. Very true – I was just recently in Huntsville, Alabama, home of NASA and also home to a colony of Germans who came to America just after WW2, bringing their rocketry skills with them, every single one of them untainted by Nazi ideology.

  28. (Laughs darkly)

    And there’s a town in Scotland whose population was abruptly swelled by the arrival of thousands of hardcore Nazis, forming about a third of the population. Or so I’m told.

  29. “Yeah, that show was pretty good. Seemed like every week some American star would be screaming “What kind of show IS this???” The Sophia Loren encounter was pretty funny too.”

    Oh yes, that was a particularly memorable one, with Norton telephoning a restaurant in Italy that made a pizza named after Loren in her honour, and getting the waiter to explain in broken English that the reason for the naming was due to the “enormous toppings” reminiscent of the actress!

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