Shit Happens


THE VAMPIRE HAPPENING is a late-career travesty from Freddie Francis. It was pretty obviously going to be terrible post-synched nonsense from the off, but I kept watching, lured in by two strange, pataphysical coincidences. Firstly, the vampire lady is called Clarimonde, which is the name of the vampire in a film I made, also called CLARIMONDE. The name comes from the Hanns Heinz Ewers story I was adapting, and he got it from another story, La Morte Amoreuse, by Theophile Gautier. Having discovered that one, I pilfered a speech from it, using the beautiful translation provided by Lafcadio Hearn, thus involving three masters of the supernatural in one fourteen-minute film (or four masters if you count me. OK, four masters.)

The second coincidence occurs at the airport scene near the start of the film — European seventies horror movies are addicted to airport scenes — see also THE HORRIBLE SEXY VAMPIRE, BARON BLOOD, and especially LISA AND THE DEVIL. This is odd, since airports are the least supernatural or Gothic places in existence, although they are very seventies. Even today.

(I never thought of them as spooky until I found myself at Marco Polo Aeroport coming back from Pordenone, and it was entirely deserted. And after I had a nice chat with the man working the baggage x-ray (when they airport is quiet, these people are relaxed and fun to chat to) I was proceeding into the echoing depths of the empty air-mausoleum, and his voice boomed out of the tannoy wishing me a happy flight, by name. THAT was spooky.)

The weird coincidence though was a voice on the PA announcing the next flight to “Slabovia,” which is a fictional East European country, sort of an anti-Ruritania, invented by me for a Channel 4 education programme called The KNTV Show around thirty years after Francis made his film. So how did it end up being name-checked in THE VAMPIRE HAPPENING?


(Belatedly, I worked out that the name used was “Slobovia,” an obsolete abusive nickname for any Eastern European backwater which I’d inadvertently come very close to using myself. Al Capp seems to have invented it in Li’l Abner.)

This intrigued me. It seemed very much as if the universe wanted me to see this film. So I watched it. It was terrible. There was a torture chamber and some sexy trees. Bad jokes. Awful acting. It ended, and I seemed to hear the universe chuckling.


Tree porn: this is genuinely presented as if it’s meant to be sexy. The “legs” part with a creak in the breeze…

Still, photographically it’s often splendid, as you’d expect from Francis — the location is magnificent and he captures it in rich, deep, dark hues. The happening itself is chaotic and ugly, though — a handheld riot of fake fangs and fake tits. The script is embarrassing, with Ferdy Mayne repeating his count bit from THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS but with horrible material — you feel bad for him. I can’t quite work out FF’s attitude to the bucketloads of nudity he’s required to show: either he had contempt for it and just ladled it on with a weary, “You want flesh? Here you go!” approach, or else like Ken Russell he was uncritically keen on the female form and so didn’t exercise any quality control. Quantity over quality. This works in THE DEVILS — goes towards realism — but seems defective in a brainless exploitation flick.

Still, the flopping, goose-bumped nudies cavorting through Francis’s drafty castle are some kind of antidote to the cascade or airbrushed centrefolds who tumble headlong through THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, seeming strangers to body hair and even pores. Even a shit film can induce a kind of nostalgia for when sex objects were human.


15 Responses to “Shit Happens”

  1. Some great (and spooky) airport scenes in Toby Dammit.

  2. Also, beginning of Suspiria.

  3. True! Fellini trumps up something that does actually use the real qualities of airports, though it’s exaggerated and distorted and Fellinified beyond recognition. Argento’s airport has no resemblance to what the experience of air travel is actually like, but is somehow convincing on its own neon/stained-glass hued terms.

    The truly odd ones are the less artful examples, where it looks photographically “real” and is neither glamorous nor spooky, just depressing in that airporty way. But I guess the airport was a byword for excitement, modernity and opulence in them days.

  4. “Truly odd”? How about my beloved guilty pleasure The Driver’s Seat? Giuseppe Patroni-Griffi’s supremely weird slice of Eurotrash begins in an airport (crawling with INTERPOL agents) where the star — Elizabeth Taylor — crosses paths with an effete nobleman played by (wait for it)

    Andy Warhol.

  5. Spielberg’s The Terminal is set entirely in Kennedy airport, where a hapless “Man Without A Country” (Tom Hanks) waits to be accepted by the U.S. and get in. Rather than shoot in the actual airport Spielberg (taking his cue from Kubrick) builds an entire elaborate set of one. Occasionally he suggest he’s seen Tati. But being Spielberg there’s no fear this will turn into Playtime

  6. La Faustin Says:

    Hey! I thought WoWW did a nice job distinguishing blue chip, NASDAQ, and pink sheet flesh, as defined in V/O.

  7. Here’s a subject for an Airport Horror Movie: Edward Snowden

  8. No stills on my browser. Sad.

  9. La Faustin, yes, and I guess the redesigning of the female body is a minor sub-theme of WoWS.

    The Driver’s Seat is a WTF masterpiece. Weird dislocated dubbing seems ideal to evoke the alienation of airports.

    Have only seen little bits of The Terminal on TV. There’s no way you could achieve that in a real airport, so both Tati and Spielberg’s extravagance is actually sound financial practice in this case.

    Edward Snowden’s life must be a bit like The Terminal now. Or The Terminal Man?

  10. A resurrected Lee Marvin’s loud footsteps during his walk through LAX in Point Blank.

  11. Airports can be intensely cinematic — it just seems to me they’re inherently more modernist (Point Blank) than Gothic.

    “What a dramatic airport!” Mel Brooks, High Anxiety.

  12. The VIPs! Everyone is fogbound at London Airport. Margaret Rutherford as the Duchess of Brighton! David Frost!

    There’s also this, of course:

  13. The VIPs has an entire storyline about somebody doing his tax returns, if I remember correctly. It does strike me as the ne plus ultra of Asquith’s fall into tedium, but maybe I need to see it again.


    Shit Happens | shadowplay

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