Archive for Ben Aris

Cornish, pasty

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2017 by dcairns

“Doesn’t this one have some kind of political subtext?” asked Fiona as I prompted a viewing of PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, Hammer’s sole walking-dead opus. And it sort of does. It might be due for a revival, actually, since Trump is supposedly bringing coal back.

I couldn’t remember if I’d seen this before. And possibly a year from now I won’t remember having seen it. But it’s not devoid of interest, the points of interest just didn’t come thick and fast enough to entirely satisfy.

I’d read about the film in the Gifford and had a strong memory of the image of a zombie, face contorted in a horrible mask-like grin, holding an unconscious — in fact, as I discovered, DEAD — girl. I hadn’t realized that the girl was the striking Jacqueline Pearce or that the zom was Ben Aris, best known as a comedy actor. He executes one of the great pratfalls of all time in ROYAL FLASH, having been hit with a champagne bottle at a locomotive christening ceremony. Of course, he was tall, which is why he was chosen here. Hammer nearly cast loveable CARRY ON film dope Bernard Bresslaw as the creature in CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, you know. Had they done so, and then gone on to cast him as Dracula, probably none of us would be here today.

I also remembered reading Leslie Halliwell’s snarky remark, in an otherwise fairly positive review — why doesn’t the Cornish tin mine owner simply employ normal workers instead of reanimating the dead? Well, obviously a zombie labour force would have advantages, not needing food or rest, and being incapable of independent action and thence, industrial action. And in any case, the film tells us that the history of fatal accidents at the mine is what put off the living employees. Using animate corpses is Health & Safety Gone Mad!

As ever in Hammer, the unsympathetic portrait of the landed gentry is balanced by an unappealing depiction of the lumpenproletariat, with surly local yokels and a stupid, scowling policeman played by the inescapable Michael Ripper.

The B-list cast is helpful in some ways — André Morrell, a fine Dr. Watson, is here cast as staunch Dr. Forbes — the good guys, of course, are solidly middle-class. And the fact that he’s not Peter Cushing allows us to forget, some of the time, that he’s playing an absolute Peter Cushing role. John Carson, doing his very best James Mason voice, is a fair but un-sexy substitute for either Christopher Lee or, at a push, Charles Gray. When the good doctor starts talking about waiting for a recently deceased female to reanimate, we know we’re in terribly familiar terrain.

Famously, director John Gilling anticipates a lot of Romeroesque imagery and action with a dream sequence in which he goes hand-held and deutsch-tilted as the recently deceased haul themselves from their graves and surround the hero in billows of dry ice fog. It gives the film a boost, and makes you wish they had gone for more ad hoc cinematography more of the time, though a pursuit sequence with fox-hunters chasing a girl — borrowed from HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES — also benefits from a lot of panting wobble in the camera department. Throw in some full-blooded crash zooms and you have something a bit more modish in technique that Terence Fisher’s classical approach.

The lighting only gets seriously stylish in the mine interior, where the sulphurous coloured gels make for an almost Bavaesque look, and Gilling gets some nice compositions by posing some of his undead workmen close to the lens, staring sightlessly past us.

Miniature coffins are always creepy, but sadly the plasticine and ketchup approach to voodoo dolls is disappointing, and the female dolls all have big boobs, which looks silly.

Framegrabbing the climax, where the mouldy miners catch fire, we can see the flame-retardant masks worn by the stunt artists, and very scary they are too. Only Aris’s zombie makeup is very effective — the other stiffs, with their pancake pallor, seem slapdash — so the masks, which looks a lot like actual mummified bodies, could have been a good way to go. They also remind me of this mask, worn by the Reverend Alexander Peden when he was a fugitive in Scotland in the 17th century. The original Leatherface!

Halloween soon. Try making one of these. Your neighbours will shit themselves.

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Attendant Lord

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on February 11, 2012 by dcairns

Ben Aris as John Thomas, the new master, in IF….

Nobody ever talks about Ben Aris.

I don’t want to be the first.

One of those very useful types British cinema exults in. He should be rights have inherited all the posh, ineffectual roles Richard Wattis used to play, but Aris never achieved Wattis’s (marginal) level of recognition. Yet he fills out the casts of some of our great films, with his unmistakable combination of the vulpine and the unready.

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant lord, one that will do

To swell a progress, start a scene or two,

Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,

Deferential, glad to be of use,

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—

Almost, at times, the Fool.

In JUGGERNAUT, Aris spends the whole film taking a bracing stroll around the deck of the Britannic, an imperiled ocean liner in stormy seas. Like IF…., this is a state-of-the-nation address centred on a microcosm of Britain, but here the whole thing’s disguised as a group jeopardy thriller. Aris’s pointless but unending perambulations mark him out as something akin to The Spirit of England.

JUGGERNAUT’s director, Richard Lester, seems not to have been a favourite of Lindsay Anderson (who had few favourites outside his immediate cohorts in the Free Cinema movement), but they used a lot of the same actors. Lester elevates extras, Tati-style, into featured players, while sometimes reducing his stars to background artists (qv John Lennon’s complaint of HELP! “We were extras in our own film.”) So for a wily and characterful actor like Aris, the opportunities were there, however tiny the role. In ROYAL FLASH he gets the funniest gag, being brained by a swinging champagne bottle at a christening ceremony for a new locomotive. Rather than doing a straight pratfall, Aris sways like a sapling in a hight wind, shimmying in an extravagant and physically impossibly manner with his whole gangly body, like a piece of wet spaghetti dangling up instead of down, before collapsing bonelessly — all made funnier by the enormous fur busby atop his head, which joins in the movement in sympathy.