Archive for Christopher Neame

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…

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Things Roddy said during “Dracula AD 1972”

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2010 by dcairns

“Here he comes… the most exciting, scariest vampire you’ve ever seen!”

Fiona’s brother Roddy likes horror movies — I have to qualify that by saying he likes specific ones, like Universal FRANKENSTEIN movies or Hammer DRACULA ones. Christopher Lee is without question his favourite actor. So during Roddy’s Christmas visit there was no question what we were watching. Fiona screened the original Hammer/Lee DRAC while I was wrapped the parcels, and on Boxing Day I ran AD 1972, the penultimate film in Hammer’s loose series (not counting the later LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES, which maybe I should, even though it’s pretty poor, even by the dubious standards of vampire kung fu crossover flicks).

I like the two modern-day DRACS, although I shouldn’t. The period sequels got dull pretty fast, and even a transfusion of fresh ideas in TASTE THE BLOOD OF D didn’t entirely dispel the air of deja vu. Not that this bothers Roddy, who likes to repeat pleasurable experiences: like a lot of people with learning difficulties, and a lot of children too (Roddy just turned 50) he’s comforted by repetition and predictability.

I’ve never asked him if he prefers historical Hammers to funky modern ones, but I doubt it makes too much difference. I certainly know Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are big parts of the pleasure: although the title BRIDES OF DRACULA always raises his interest, once he discovers Lee isn’t in it, he goes off the idea; a shame, as it may be Terence Fisher’s best film in the “series”.

Hyde Park — a Victorian Hansom approaches. “I think this is the one where they’re fighting — him and Dracula!” declares Roddy as  Cushing and Lee appear, wrestling on the roof.

Lee is dispatched with a spoke through the heart — curiously, Roddy, a traditionalist in matters of vampire slaying, doesn’t object to this. Cushing dies, we get an attractively-shot funeral, and unknown hands rescue a sample of Dracula’s ashes, along with his ring. I’m not sure the identity of this Draculite is ever dealt with, but it’s a nice mystery — he’s obviously an ancestor of the disciple we meet later, since he’s played by the same actor, but it’s not clear why he leaves it so long before attempting a resurrection.

Alan Hume’s Dick Bush’s cinematography makes attractive use of both long lens and wide angle lens effects.

Pan up from grave, past now-ruined church, to catch jet plane flying overhead, a shot which makes me think of the falcon turning into a fighter plane in Powell & Pressburger’s A CANTERBURY TALE. Funky music, shots of cranes forming cruciform shapes against the skyline, a steak house, a red London bus, and on to the wild party.

Cushing appears again, this time as his own grandson, and Stephanie Beacham is his buxom granddaughter, Jessica (inexplicably replaced by the more streamlined Joanna Lumley in the sequel the following year). Jessica is hanging with a wild crowd, including Johnny Alucard (prettyboy Christopher Neame).

“They’re dancing too fast!” complains Roddy during the party-crashing scene. People with Williams syndrome are usually quite musical, and Roddy is a good drummer. With his sense of rhythm, he spots that the partygoers are dancing to the wrong music.

“Would you smile at a policeman?”

“Uh, there he is. Why’s he got a bow tie on?”

“Carpathia? Where’s that?” Roddy must ask this question every time he watches the film. One never knows if he forgets the answer or if he just likes asking the question. People with Williams’ syndrome are notoriously chatty, and Roddy asks questions not just to obtain answers, not even primarily, but rather to keep the conversation going.

Alucard and his gang (including babes Caroline Munro and Marsha Hunt) attempt a black mass, accompanied by the music of The White Noise (featuring David Vorhaus, son of film director Bernard, and Delia Derbyshire, electronic genius behind the Dr Who theme) and raise Christopher Lee, who eschews dialogue as much as possible (Lee hated the scripts’ departures from Stoker, and particularly disliked the modern ambience).

Neame should have been a bigger star, it seems to me. He’s perfectly attuned to the movie’s camp sensibilities, and he looks great. If you’re going to have a character called Johnny Alucard, and I’m not for a minute suggesting you should, this is what he should look like.

“Here comes the smoke — or is it steam?”

This may be the movie where the makeup team pranked Lee by fitting him with Union Jack contact lenses…

Cushing prepares to strike back as Jessica’s pals go missing, and a montage shows him collecting holy water and melting a crucifix to make a silver bullet. This scene is why I’m never watching this movie with Roddy again, because he ALWAYS objects to the idea of silver bullets as a vampire-killing measure. “That’s for werewolves!” And he won’t be told otherwise, even if I quote the entry from my copy of Monsters and Mysterious Beasts (Carey Miller, Piccolo, 1974, my childhood source on all things monstrous) ~

1) A wooden stake made from aspen or hawthorn wood must be driven into the vampire’s heart or navel;

2) Small stones or rains of incense must be placed in the coffin so that the vampire has something to nibble if he awoke, to delay him leaving the coffin;

3) Garlic must be stuffed in his mouth;

4) Millet seed must be scattered over the vampire’s body for he could not leave the tomb until every grain had been counted;

5) The vampire’s body must be buried face downwards;

6) Wild, thorny roses must be strung outside the coffin in order to hinder the vampire’s progress from the grave.

There are other legendary ways of killing a vampire, like shooting him with a silver bullet or burning his coffin so he cannot return to it.

By the way, that millet seed thing only works if the vampire is the Count from Sesame Street.

Cushing tracks Alucard to his lair pad, and after an exciting confrontation where Johnny calls Van “man” about fifteen times, the creature of the night perishes under the clear running water of his shower. He also offends Roddy by calling Cushing “bastard!”

“Language, Dracula!” That’s not Dracula, I remind him. “Language, vampire!”

Alucard, being a recent vamp, doesn’t disintegrate when slain, he just turns a bit soapy.

Ouch! Stephanie has really hot tits!

Cushing corners Lee in his desanctified church and there’s a stirring battle. I like it when Hammer came up with complicated deaths for Lee (while I hate it when he gets struck by lightning), and this is a doozy, with holy water slung like acid, and a plunge from the steeple into a booby-trapped grave. Cushing finishes him off by driving him onto the spike with a jab from his shovel.

“That’s done the trick!”

Rest in Final Peace, reads the end title, a proposition immediately turned into a lie by next year’s sequel.

A shame Hammer didn’t make a true-life adaptation of the case of the Highgate Vampire, which would have given them an AMITYVILLE HORROR kind of documentary vibe. But I must admit I enjoy this tosh, and only wish director Alan Gibson could have been put in charge of the HARRY POTTER series, which might be enlivened by a jazz funk soundtrack and great yawning chasms of female cleavage.

Frankenstein Must Be Annoyed

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2008 by dcairns

Well, he’s forever losing his patients (sorry).

This one DOES have a nice singalong theme tune by James Bernard.

So, some clever people on the IMDb have worked out that maybe the best way to make sense of the Hammer FRANKENSTEINs, leaving aside HORROR OF, which substitutes Ralph Bates for Cushing (how do we feel about this? I’d say it’s an interesting alternative in theory, in keeping with the Baron’s history of sexual ambivalence, beginning with Colin Clive. I’m renting HORROR, because I quite enjoyed FEAR IN THE NIGHT, which HORROR helmer Jimmy Sangster also directed). According  to Elsa4077  you need to swap 1967’s FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN with 1969’s FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, and regard EVIL OF as a dream. This allows the firey climax of DESTROYED to serve as the missing explanation for the Baron’s burned hands in CREATED WOMAN. It’s a pretty good theory, especially since Cushing’s hands are fine throughout DESTROYED, but damaged again in FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL, the last in the series. which makes no sense if the stories run in the order they were shot in.

It doesn’t explain what became of “Dr. Franck’s” Harley Street practice or his partnership with Francis Matthews, though. I propose an exercise in fan fiction, dealing with the London-centric mad science that brings about Dr. Hans Kleve’s death, amid welters of Kensington gore, and leads to the Baron fleeing back to the continent. Let’s call it FRANKENSTEIN HAS RISEN FROM BELGRAVIA, and have the London experiments result in the mysterious figure known as Spring-Heeled Jack. Douglas Noble, AKA Stripforme, suggests that the Baron could end up as Jack the Ripper, but he CAN’T, silly! We all know that Jack the Ripper was really Martine Beswick in DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE.

We first meet the Baron this time in a natty spats and latex monster mask combo (his cheek bones still show through, says Fiona), decapitating a doctor in order to supply his latest creation with a suitably educated brain. An intruding burglar leads to the destruction of this monster-to-be, and the discovery of the Baron’s secret lair. Plus an impressively nasty moment when, fighting with the baron, the burglar is knocked over and finds himself touching the severed head. Jeepers!

In his memoir, Rungs on a Ladder, production manager Christopher Neame (son of Ronald) reports that the actor playing the burglar was so distressed by the rushes, he was found pacing a corridor clutching his head to ensure it was still attached.

This opening, and the rest of the film, is considerably more energetic than the previous entries in the series, with series regular cameraman Arthur Grant using wider lenses, getting in closer, and moving the camera sharply in nearly every shot. Terence Fisher’s increased liveliness behind the lens is all the more remarkable considering he was walking with the aid of a stick after recently been seriously injured after drunkenly wandering into traffic.

Next we meet incompetent Inspector Thorley Walters, playing a quite different kind of idiot from his kindly assistant in CREATED WOMAN — officious, and in a perpetual state of umbrage. He’s a bit like Raymond Walburn’s apoplectic authority figures in Preston Sturges’ films. Assisted by long-suffering police doctor Geoffrey Bayldon (another veteran of these things) Walters is lots of fun, although the investigative part of the film fails to really catch up with the rest of the narrative. But the comic dialogue is surprisingly sharp (screenwriter Bert Batt was an A.D. who had never written a film before) and the acting by everybody is just DELIGHTFUL: Robert Gillespie as the dry-witted mortuary man — “I last saw him on the day I slid him into the drawer,” — Allan Surtees as the sergeant, reporting as if it were a mere formality, “His head’s been cut off.” Priceless.

The Geoffrey and Thorley Comedy Show.

Needing a new place to set up shop, Baron F moves into Veronica Carlson’s lodging house. I suggested last time that having used up the pseudonyms “Stein” and “Franck”, he would have to start calling himself “Dr. En”, and he almost does — he’s “Dr. Fenner” now. Mad genius that he is, he’s soon blackmailing Veronica and her doctor boyfriend, Simon Ward, who’s been dealing coke on the side to support Carlson’s ailing mother (another plot thread that goes nowhere, but let it pass). This strand of the story shows Frankenstein at his most unsympathetic (and he’s not exactly the most warm-hearted fellow in the other films), forcing Carlson to make him endless cups of coffee, then raping her. Then getting her to make more coffee, which I thought was going a bit far.

The controversial rape was added in at the behest of the distributor, supposedly, and everybody was compelled to go through with it even though subsequent scenes had already been shot. It’s a pretty appalling insight into British cinema circa 1969 that a gratuitous rape scene was considered a way to bolster the entertainment value and commercial appeal of an already pretty gory horror film. Terence Fisher shot the scene under protest, and both Cushing and Carlson found the experience mortifying. Cushing, ever the pro, throws himself into it with gusto, and interestingly the sequence is the most dynamic in the film, with a powerful subjective camera track in on Cushing ominously offering the door-key to Carlson, and then a flurry of violent handheld camera as he wrestles her on the bed. Now, Fisher HATED handheld photography: “The camera never stops moving, and the audience quite rightly wonders why,” and he uses it just once elsewhere in this film, so there’s a suggestion that it’s use here was a gesture of contempt for the offensive material. But it works, making the scene properly ugly, rather than the titillation the distributor had wanted.

There’s a serious question about whether this scene (damnit, these are SERIOUS FILMS!), tacked on late in the day, damages the Baron as a character. We know from his liaison with the French maid in CURSE that he’s not solely dedicated to his work. He’s a lusty kind of fellow (as was Cushing). But he’d always behaved like a gentleman, of sorts. If we take the films to chart a descent into depravity, this scene shows the Baron having become even more heartless than ever, and it’s in keeping with his committing a gratuitous murder later on, just because his plans have been thwarted. For all his Man Of Science act, the Baron is a rather headstrong, emotion-driven guy. And also evil as fuck.

The plan this time is to abduct Frankenstein’s crazy partner, Dr. Brandt (the skin care specialist?) from the asylum where Simon Ward works, and cure his madness with a groundbreaking trepanning procedure. But the mad scientist suffers a heart attack, and Cushing is forced to transplant his brain into the body of Freddie Jones, as you do. This film is very big on brain transplants, with everyone acting as if they’d never been done before (REVENGE is all about brain transplanting, with even Cushing joining in himself), but remembering the recent work of Christian Bernard transplanting the first human heart in 1967, it’s easy to see why this stuff was of special interest at the time.

Gurgle.

Freddie spends much of the movie in a comatose state, having his head drilled and milksyphoned into him, which is no way to win an Oscar, but then he wakes up and gives what Fiona suggests is THE BEST GUEST-STAR PERFORMANCE EVER IN A HAMMER FILM. Desperate to be reunited with his wife — the great Maxine Audley from PEEPING TOM — who believes him dead (she’s seen his old body) he escapes from the Baron’s HQ andclimbs in her window. What follows is a wooing-by-proxy scene, with Jones speaking from behind a screen, that practically echoes CYRANO DE BERGERAC, and is the certainly most emotional material in any of the Frankenstein films.

It turns out the Baron only brought Brandt back to life and sanity in order to get from him an important MacGuffin formula which is raised rather late in the proceedings and never explained, but at least it’s clear that Frankenstein is acting in the interests of science, not charity, which is consistent with his M.O. Cushing arrives at chez Brandt to get the formula, but the brain-transplanted Brandt is waiting for him…

Things then erupt in what I can only call a fiery denouement, expertly staged and cut (Fisher was a former editor who had a real mastery of building scenes from simple but effective blocking). It looks like it’s possibly be done with multiple cameras, a necessity considering the special effects involved, but it doesn’t rupture the carefully designed shooting style of the film. There’s a rhythmic quality to the slamming and opening of doors and hurling of lanterns, and Cushing’s work here, particularly stylish in longshot, reminds me of the reason Scorsese gave for his gang’s enthusiasm for this actor: “We admired the precision of his movements within the frame.” They must have had some great 42nd St cinephile discussions, those boys.

Freddie can sling a lantern with the best of them.

Well, a real, honest-to-God fiery denouement is exactly what one wants in a Frankenstein film, and they pull out all the stops here, throw them on the floor and burn them. The credits pop up as Freddie’s house goes up, just like at the end of APOCALYPSE NOW. The horror! It’s never explained exactly how the Baron escapes cremation to ride again, but at least this acts as a belated explanation for his singed mitts.

All in all, this seemed like both the most dynamic film in the series to date, as well as the best-written, with comedy relief brought in early enough so that it doesn’t jar, unlike in the Sangster scripts, and a reasonably solid structure and controlled pace, unlike those written by John Elder. If it doesn’t have the cerebral and metaphysical qualities of CREATED WOMAN, it benefits from keeping it’s brain on the subject at hand — demented surgical mayhem — and not being distracted with stuff about souls and force fields. A shame Bert Batt didn’t write more.