Archive for Brian Clemens

Blind Tuesday #1: The Eyes Don’t Have It

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 12, 2011 by dcairns

BLIND TERROR or, to give it its “classier” title, SEE NO EVIL, is a seriously basic blind-girl-in-jeopardy thriller written with slack minimalism by Brian The Avengers Clemens but directed rather sensationally by Richard Fleischer, whose seventies work is all over the map but sometimes comes violently to life in response to either a good script or a technical challenge. Here we get traditional slasher dynamics — extreme low-angle glides after sinister footwear, that kind of thing — given an extra push into stylistic brio by cinematographer Gerry Fisher.

Also, the suspense is genuinely intense as Mia wanders about a big house unaware that the other occupants have been bloodily murdered. Even more cringe-making is a coffee-making scene in which she doesn’t know about the broken glass littering the kitchen floor, her stockinged feet padding about between the glittering shards, miraculously escaping bloody mutilation with every step.

Unfortunately, the script’s slenderness prevents it working on any deeper level, and an unbelievably flat and anticlimactic conclusion stops it holding up as a straightahead shocker. Those in the know about young British actors of the period will have no trouble guessing the killer, since it’s got to be somebody with the necessary psycho edge, although the botched climax never actually allows him to display his chops.

Burgess Meredith gate-crashes the movie via TV.

Faced with this streamlined, largely unmotivated string of cruel set-pieces, Fleischer attempts what seems like his own stab at subtext. The killer has no background or psychology to motivate him, so RF attempts to stencil in a vague mental framework in the opening titles by showing the sensationalist media crowding the guy, a cultural call to violence. This is immediately ridiculous (and it’s in bad faith for a violent thriller to blame its killer’s actions on violent thrillers) — we open on an audience filing out of a grindhouse double feature, rather implausibly situated in rural Berkshire. Then we get newsstands with lurid headlines, and Burgess Meredith grimacing in TORTURE GARDEN as viewed on a TV set in a shop window… was the clip chosen based on the film’s splendid title, leading to a struggle to find any suitably gory imagery in a typically mild Amicus horror flick? In the end, the sequence overreaches itself conceptually and makes for a shaky start, redeemed only when the suspense starts properly and the film can perform on a purely visceral level.

Top marks for blindness: Mia’s raw, screaming hysteria is not only convincing but worrying. The movie makes more sense than WAIT UNTIL DARK, but that’s easy since it doesn’t attempt anything remotely complex. The attempts at red herring generation are at a DW Griffith level of complexity (untrustworthy gypsies, including Michael Elphick of THE ELEPHANT MAN and the landlady of The Slaughtered Lamb in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON).

Fiona tells me that when THE ELEPHANT MAN came out, poor Elphick would get abuse from random strangers in the street, so convincing was his callous hospital porter in that movie. “You bastard!” A phenomenon unglimpsed since Stroheim.

***

This has been No 1 in a short series on blind person thrillers.

The Tell-tale Tit

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2009 by dcairns

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BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM…

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Tell-Tale-Tit!

Yer mammy cannae knit!

Yer dad’s in the dustbin,

Eating dirty chips!

Such was the playground taunt of my childhood, directed against anyone who “clyped”, or ratted on a friend to a teacher or other adult. No reason to mention it here, except that I’ve been watching THE TELL-TALE HEART, a rare British adaptation of Poe, from 1960. Director Ernest Morris was from TV, but does a pretty good job on an obviously tight budget. Also with TV credentials are co-writer Brian Clemens, the mastermind behind The Avengers (and later screenwriter of DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE and CAPTAIN KRONOS, VAMPIRE HUNTER) and producers the Danzigers, specialists in B-films and quota quickies, who were quick to scoop up American talent like Joseph Losey and Richard Lester to direct TV thrillers like Mark Saber.

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Adrienne Corri has shed her DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS puppy fat and is now very skinny indeed, but Laurence Payne doesn’t seem to mind.

The cast reunites two stars from the Danziger’s hilarious DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS, Edinburgh-born Adrienne Corri (whose future would feature several films for Hammer, one for Kubrick, and who had already made THE RIVER with Renoir) and Dermot Walsh. In the lead role of this romantic triangle is Laurence Payne, fervently neurasthenic as Edgar Marsh, or is it Edgar Poe? Weirdly, different characters in different scenes refer to him by different names. The confusion is rather surprising — filmmakers weren’t really doing Lynchian identity-blurs in Britain in 1960, and yet it’s a very odd thing to do by accident. Maybe the two credited writers wrote alternate scenes and never compared notes? I like the idea of the film being composed like a surrealist game of “exquisite corpse”, with each author unaware of the other’s pages.

I also liked the patina of weird scratches and smears covering the print, which made me think of the “underfilm” referred to in Theodor Roszak’s great novel Flicker — it was exciting to think that this shimmering mass of unreadable, subliminal runes and hieroglyphs might be branding my subconscious with arcane information that would ultimately sterilise me with fear.

The new plot spun from fragments of Poe’s short story has Poe/Marsh, resident of a big old house on the Rue Morgue (despite the real Poe being American, and this street being French, we seem to be, however vaguely, in England) smitten with Corri, the florist across the street, into whose bedroom he can spy. Like so many horror movie heroines, she has a blithe tendency to undress by the window — it’s one of the many ways in which real women disappoint when compared to their celluloid sisters. Since we’ve already seen Marshpoe perusing his collection of classy porn (staring hard at the pages until his arm falls limply to his side, a peculiarly hands-0ff approach to onanism), we can guess what effect this is likely to have upon him.

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A shy and fumbling suitor, Poemarsh turns to his man-of-the-world best pal, Carl Loomis (1960 was a good year for Loomises), played by Walsh, and suddenly the film seems like a premake of  Richard Lester’s THE KNACK…AND HOW TO GET IT, with a successful loverboy guiding an incompetent novice, until both find themselves competing over a girl. The difference being that Michael Crawford never bludgeoned Ray Brooks to death with a poker and hid him under the living room floor.

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BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM…

Now comes the Mario Bava stuff. The incessant beating of the dead man’s heart (?) is picked up by a ticking metronome and a dripping tap, leading me to wonder if Bava’s BLACK SABBATH, three years later, was consciously influenced by this obscure movie. When a claw-like sea-shell ornament and a piece of porcelain start rocking back and forth in time to the beat, I was strongly reminded of the sliding china hand from Bava’s last feature, SHOCK.

Then, my favourite bit, the carpet bulging rhythmically to the beat of the heart, as if the living room floor were a cartoon character’s bosom.

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BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM…

Finally, we get the Poe pay-off, “It’s the beating of that infernal heart!” (Payne is great at anguish and hysteria and Ernest Morris has a smart sense of when to let rip with an ECU) , and then an it-was-all-a-dream-or-was-it? ending no doubt inspired by DEAD OF NIGHT, which almost-but-not-quite accounts for the hero’s double name. (He’s Poe in reality, Marsh in his dream — although this schism contributes nothing except a floating caul of confusion.)

Close-up of a chess board where Marsh left it in Poe’s dream: “Checkmate!”

BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM…

Dr. Man and Mr. Woman

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2008 by dcairns

Adaptations of Jekyll and Hyde seem to fall into pairs…one good… one evil.

Comedy versions: THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (original) = good. THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (remake) = evil.

Eurotrash versions: DR JEKYLL AND THE WOMEN = good. DR JEKYLL AND THE WEREWOLF = evil.

Lost versions: DER JANUSKOPF (Murnau) = no doubt good. THE UGLY DUCKLING (Comfort) = probably fairly evil.

Transgender versions: DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE = good. DR JEKYLL AND MISS HYDE = pure evil.

Well, I say good, but the Hammer sex-change version is a mixture of crass errors and unexpected joys. The idea and title could strike you as cheesy, but then they have an amazing casting coup in Ralph Bates and Martine Beswick as the titular pair, their physiognomies lining up in a remarkably convincing way. “Sister Hyde” isn’t a nun, or a nurse, she’s literally alibied as Jekyll’s sister, and there’s a convincing family resemblance. Both actors seem to exude some kind of powerful pheromone that makes them appealing to gay audiences. It’s a real shame the film doesn’t find that much for Martine to do — she barely speaks, and though she clashed with Baker and Hammer films over their urge for more nudity, the film doesn’t even allow Mrs. Hyde to experience sex as a woman. They’re slightly afraid of the story’s possibilities.

Note: NEVER be afraid or ashamed of the story you’re telling! If you are, don’t tell it.

Remembering the good things, one always starts the film with high hopes, and it never fails to disappoint. The opening is truly spirited, with a foggy Victorian London set and a gory reenactment of a Jack the Ripper attack. Roy Ward Baker directs with, if not gusto, then a cheap, non-brand-name equivalent. He’s a bit zoom-happy, and I always feel he wasn’t quite happy in the horror genre that Hammer landed him in (although his QUATERMASS AND THE PIT is a favourite), but he does some interesting things with the camera and creates a bit of pace and atmos, helped immensely by Norman Warwick’s misty night cinematography, all shafts of light and lurking silhouettes. Production designer Robert Jones, following screenwriter Brian Clemens from TV’s The Avengers, designs the exteriors in monochrome, so that splashes of red photograph more brightly.

First transformation: Bates to Beswick in one shot: the camera wobbles around Bates as he crouches in an armchair before a full length mirror. With his head in shot the whole time, we end on his back, looking past Beswick reflected back at us in the glass. At first I thought this was a fake mirror, really a door leading into a duplicate set, as in the Mamoulian version — but no! Just a real mirror angles so as to reflect Beswick, sitting ALONGSIDE Bates, moving in synchronisation with her.

Beswick, and the shoulder of Bates.

Doing a transgender Jekyll isn’t enough for writer Clemens, he fuses Jekyll with Jack the Ripper (Jekyll needs to harvest fresh organs to supply him with female hormones for his experiments) and throws in Burke and Hare as well (in the wrong city, 60 years after Burke was executed, long after medical grave-robbing was effectively stamped out). This is either way too much of a good thing, or not quite enough. But I like the way Hare gets blinded by an angry mob and transforms into the blind “witness” from Fritz Lang’s M.

My problem is more with blending real and fake horror. Anyone who’s researched the Ripper case, as Fiona and I did for a screenplay entitled THE DAUGHTERS OF JOY (still available if there are any takers) will realise that the Whitechapel murders are not funny. Of course, there was very little Ripper lit when Clemens wrote his screenplay, so I guess the nostalgically safe horror of Madame Tussaud’s was easier to swallow. But within  just a few years, the idea of an anonymous madman murdering impoverished working girls would cease to be so distant. And I still don’t see what could really have struck anybody as funny about it.

Fun stuff –

Beswick whipping together a slinky red outfit from a pair of curtains in mere seconds, like a wicked Von Trapp kid. The buying an even slinkier red dress, which Fiona admired (though not as much as she covets Fenella Fielding’s outfit from CARRY ON SCREAMING). I thought the cossie was a bit fancy dress, like something for an Anne Summers costume party, but Fiona thinks that may be the point: “Remember, it was bought by a man.”

The not-quite gratuitous scene of Martine examining her new breasts before the mirror — it’s what would happen. That, or she might curl up in a ball bemoaning the loss of her wedding tackle. It’s followed by an even more surprisingly blatant shot: as she squeezes her bosom, she notices that the hand doing the squeezing is now male. A lot of the transitions are done this way, with Bates’ hands suddenly womaning out on him at odd moments.

The first transition also features a cutaway of one of those little weather houses, where the man disappears into one door and the woman emerges from another. A witty touch, in a film that more often resorts to enjoyably shit lines like “Burke by name and berk by nature!”

We were also amused by the “ironic” death scene, where Jekyll, fleeing over the rooftops, loses his grip on a drainpipe thanks to Hyde’s weak, womanish fingers, and falls to his/her death/s. And for the only time in a J&H film, Hyde does not revert to a peaceful Jekyll in death — instead we get a mutant hermaphrodite, face split between Bates and Beswick (by way of a crude makeup) like the Janus-face of Bergman’s PERSONA.

Two-Face.
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