Archive for Christopher Lee

Lord of the Ring

Posted in FILM with tags , , on March 20, 2019 by dcairns

I know a few people who worked with the late Sir Christopher Lee, come to think of it. But I only just found out somebody I’ve known for years worked with him multiple times. “You weren’t allowed to mention DRACULA,” was one unsurprising bit of info, BUT ~ “He had a secret ring, for his doorbell, to let him know it was film crew.” This information thrilled me. Three short rings and one long one, something like that, I assume. I reminds me that he was in special ops in the war. Information about which is still under seal.

One day we’re going to find out about all the Nazis Sir Christopher garroted. OR we’re going to find out it was all a fantasy and he was stationed in Bermondsey the whole time filling out requisition slips. In triplicate. Either way, I shall be very excited.

Knowledge is power.

Thanks, Julie!

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Going to the Movies

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2018 by dcairns

Tim Concannon on the late acting roles of Peter Cook provides us with a piece that’s erudite, wide-ranging, funny and melancholic — all the qualities we cherish. Here. This is a really wonderful illustration of what blogging can do — because you’d NEVER get a thing like this published anywhere else. Fantastic.

Fiona was surprised, in Pete Walker’s FRIGHTMARE. to see Graham The Psychiatrist take his date to see BLOW OUT. Not catching the name above the title, she wondered how the lovely couple could be enjoying a Brian De Palma movie that hadn’t been made yet in 1974.

Realizing that this was Marco Ferreri’s LA GRANDE BOUFFE, she marvelled at Graham The Psychiatrist’s taste. She would have been impressed by a date choosing such a movie, though in 1974 she would have been a bit young to see it, or indeed to go on a date.

I marvelled at Pete Walker’s sense of humour.

This is by way of being a gallery to accompany our latest podcast, which you should really download.

We speak approvingly of this transition in TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, a slow dissolve from Christopher Lee’s beneficent visage to a landscape view, causing his eyes to bore out of the evening sky like dark moons.

This is an example of the crazy film stock cinematographer David Watkin deployed for the climax of TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER. I’m wondering if he might have used a bit of it in THE BED SITTING ROOM, which has some wild colour experiments, but most of them SEEM to have been achieved with filters and/or big plates of coloured glass (i.e. GIANT filters).

 

And we’re very enthusiastic about this gradual zoom-out in THE MONSTER CLUB, incorporating stylish reflections, Simon Ward’s cheekbones, and a theatrical lighting change. Suggestion for a scholarly dissertation: The Influence of Death of a Salesman on Amicus Films.

And we talk about (and quote) the sequence composed entirely of elaborate and spooky illustrations, apparently by acclaimed cartoonist John Bolton. Only right to provide a visual sample. Via Twitter, another fine cartoonist, regular Shadowplayer Douglas Noble informs me that Bolton had been doing promotional comic strips for Amicus and this led to him being hired to create the visuals for this sequence. Bolton’s work is so fine that the montage in no sense feels like a cheap solution to production limitations: it actually RAISES the production values of the film.

FRIGHTMARE stars Miss Brabazon, Chief Inspector Maigret, Manoel and Starbuck.

TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER stars Tommy Udo, the Duc De Richelieu, Tess Durbeyfield, Pussy Galore, Toby Meres, Marcus Brody, Don Jarvis, Rand Hobart, Wackford Squeers, Madame Nadedja von Meck, Professor Pomona Sprout and Madame Olympe Maxime.

THE MONSTER CLUB stars Matthew Hopkins, Major Cassius Starbuckle, Kit Kelly, Mr. Grout, the White Witch, the Duke of Buckingham, Catweazel, Detective-Inspector Boney, Dr. Crippen, Dr. John Markway, Mary Goodnight, Toby Meres again, Paul Regret, Nurse Nora and the Marquis de Sade.

Once again, you can grab The Shadowcast #3: The Fall of the House of Horror here.

We’re gonna need a bigger goat

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2018 by dcairns

A blogathon! How NICE! The main page is here.

Fiona first saw THE DEVIL RIDES OUT — “From the classic novel by Dennis Wheatley — on TV, while high on magic mushrooms, an experience she does not recommend. When the Duc de Richleau commands “Don’t look at his eyes!” she became entranced, hypnotised, staring at the eyes and trying to work out what was so special about them. “He’s right! They’re TERRIBLE!” she concluded, and never took mushrooms again. The other main effect of the shrooms was that nothing about the story seemed comprehensible, which might be a good thing — Dennis Wheatley’s novels are pretty basic and stodgy in terms of story, character, prose and dialogue. A dash of psychoactive substance might be just what they need.

Mind you, Hammer’s other Wheatley adaptation of 1968, THE LOST CONTINENT, based on the novel Uncharted Seas, caused my friend Danny to think he WAS on drugs, even though he wasn’t. It is completely bananas, and Wheatley’s peculiar Sargasso Sea fantasy is adapted by Hammer boss’s son Michael Carreras, who couldn’t write, didn’t know one end of a story from another, had no concept of structure… (I hate producers who give themselves writing gigs nobody else would ever hire them for.)

DEVIL is adapted by Richard Matheson, an altogether more skilled writer — and ACTUAL writer — who had recently been writing Poe films for Corman. Hammer didn’t have a terribly proactive approach to scooping up outside talent — they should have jumped at Barbara Steele, lured over Vincent Price, recruited Michael Reeves, and acquired better writers than Jimmy Sangster. When they did hire J.G. Ballard, they spelled his name wrong. But they did well to pick up Matheson, and the ever-reliable Terence Fisher.

Though maybe a more eccentric director would have worked here, for the film’s slightly psychedelic sequences. Fisher can be rather stolid, prosaic, and so can some of his actors here. In fact, Fisher does marvelous work here with scenes of waiting and suggestion, but is let down badly by the special effects and make-up and, to a lesser extent, the fight arrangements.

BUT — like Fiona, I knew this film from TV and VHS and seeing it again in the right aspect ratio and a sharper image really made it come alive.

Here’s a limerick — I should have saved it for Limerwrecks, where my doggerel usually appears, but I didn’t think of it.

The Devil Rides Out — best beware

He revels without any care

At midnight black masses

He fiddles with lassies

Disheveled and sprouting with hair.

Despite it being 1968, these are the only bare breasts displayed.

Onto the film! Christopher Lee was very keen on this one, and happy to be playing a hero — a sort of Sherlock Holmes of the supernatural, another of Hammer’s rather harsh authority figures — they idea seems to be, we’re supposed to find Van Helsing and De Richleau unsympathetic, cold and scary, but still prefer them to the licentious evil of the netherworld, which can only be safely enjoyed in movies.

In postmodern terms, the film stars Saruman, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Captain Miles Gloriosus and Prime Minister Jim Hacker.

It’s a very linear, this-follows-that kind of narrative — when the characters branch off in separate directions, we typically stay with only one set, eschewing intercutting. Lee’s Richleau meets up with friend Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene, but dubbed by Patrick Allen) and they set off to investigate why their friend Simon (Patrick Mower) has dropped out of circulation. Stopping by at Simon’s newly-acquired big country house, they find a gathering — supposedly an “astronomical society” — “My God!” exclaims Greene, using Allen’s voice — apparently it’s the presence of black and asian people in their native garb that shocks him so.

Lee quickly deduces that Mower has fallen into the hands of satanists, just as he would in INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED. Mower is a pushover: anything in a ceremonial robe. In this case, the cult leader is one Mocata, played with fruity relish by Charles Gray, aka The Criminologist from ROCKY HORROR. Also drawn into the madness is young Tanith, Nike Arrighi, who seems dubbed but isn’t. Maybe she had to loop her lines to match Greene/Allen’s post-synched dialogue. (Incidentally, I can’t see why Green had to be dubbed: his voice and delivery was fine in other films — he was an opera singer, in fact.)

Later on, Nike Arrighi’s voice will issue from another character’s mouth, making this a film ABOUT dubbing…

What follows is a fairly relentless series of set-pieces: two hypnotisings, some psychic attacks and summonings, a black mass (starring the Goat of Mendes) and assorted conjurations. The simpler these are, the better they tend to work. The black guy who materialises in the middle of a room, staring and grinning, is scary because he doesn’t move (also: don’t look at his eyes) ~

The Angel of Death, however, is pretty disappointing, with his horse with bat-wings pasted on. Fisher tries to make the thing dramatic by having the horse rear up in close-up, and then some idiot looped the film to make the action repeat. Slow-motion and long-shot and losing the stupid wings would have worked a lot better. Just exploit the uncanny/surreal set-up of a horse indoors: you lose that by going in close. A shame, because the whole magic circle bit was atmospheric, with the camera edging round the chalk outline, causing candles to float through frame. And Lee is marvelously authoritative.

Christopher Neame, in charge of the second unit, reports in his memoir that the Angel of Death’s horse’s wings had a tendency to fall off whenever it reared up. I think the Great God (or Devil) of Cinema was trying to tell him something.

But the melodrama of Lee’s exposition and Gray’s bully-boy sneering is so effective that the main objection to the story — that Richleau has an amulet of incantation for every occasion, and so real menace is absent, a lack disguised by Richleau simply not telling us what he’s got planned — doesn’t occur to one, or didn’t occur to me, until after the film is over. At which point it’s too late to jump into the screen and cry, “Hang on! This is a stitch-up!” The magic spell has already been performed. Time and space have been altered.

Lost in time… and lost in space… and meaning…