Archive for Cuadecuc-Vampir

Towers of London

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2009 by dcairns


A disrespectful obit.

Regular Shadowplayer Paul Duane alerts me to the demise of noted B-movie god and sleazemeister Harry Alan Towers, whose low-budget Penny Dreadful-type Fu Manchu films excited my childish imagination when I was about, oh, thirty-eight. Also when I was eight.

I’m sure somebody will correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe HAT was such an enterprising, globe-trotting producer, that he made literally dozens of films while officially wanted in the US for violating the Mann act (transporting women across a state line for “immoral purposes”). This had something to do with sex slaves for UN delegates, if I’m correct. (Sorry to bring this up in an obit, but seriously, how could I not?) And wasn’t the matter quietly dropped when Harry argued that among his clients was JFK? Some immoral purposes are more respectable than others.

My late friend Lawrie Knight had a HAT story, and once again, it’s not really the kind of thing one should recount in an obituary, so I’m going to recount it. HAT took Lawrie out to dinner, with Richard Attenborough. Towers was no doubt trying to impress Dickie, perhaps in the run-up to starring him in some sixties low-grade spectacular, but the waiter arrived at the end of the meal and told HAT that his mother had called, and said not to accept any more of his cheques, because she wouldn’t be paying his restaurant bills anymore. Embarrassing.

Still, the positive side of HAT was that he wouldn’t let that kind of thing stop him. Jesus Franco said that the man could raise some money in Paris or somewhere, fly to Brazil or South Africa to make a movie with it, and type the screenplay on the flight over. He also said HAT was great because he never interfered, you never saw him during the shoot. The trouble was, you never saw the money either.

HAT said of Franco, “I seem to attract these weird characters. I saw one of Franco’s films a few years back and he was STILL doing that thing of pointlessly zooming in and out.”

In fact, there’s something to be said for Franco as a filmmaker, but I’m not going to say it here. I will say that HAT’s production of CALL OF THE WILD is worth seeing for Chuck Heston, Mario Nascimbene’s haunting score, and the ending, which follows Jack London more closely than is usual. I suspect Towers, who specialized in public-domain classic novel adaptations, saw no reason to tamper with his sources, since tampering takes time, and time is money. His COUNT DRACULA is far closer to Stoker than the Hammer movie, which I imagine is how he snared Sir Christopher Lee’s services. (The movie is also much worse than the Hammer version, but it did give us Pere Portabella’s mesmerizing CUADECUC-VAMPIR.)

In whatever branch of the celluloid inferno Mr. Towers now finds himself, I hope they’re making him comfortable. I imagine he’s already written an exploitation adaptation of Dante’s DIVINE COMEDY on his way down there. As long as he doesn’t get into trouble transporting women from the eighth to the ninth circle for immoral purposes, I’m sure he’ll be quite at home.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2008 by dcairns


Now there’s a bad film  — Jesus Franco’s CONTE DRACULA, scripted and produced by Harry Alan Towers. Somehow those two pirates didn’t really improve each other when they collaborated. In fact, I think both are quite a bit better apart.

Franco said he liked Towers as a producer because you never saw him after you made the deal. On the other hand, you frequently never saw the money either.

Towers said Franco was an odd character and deplored his tendency to zoom in and out for no reason. (I assume he meant with the camera.)

My friend Lawrie once dined with Towers (and Richard Attenborough), but the meal was cut short by the arrival of a waiter bearing the unwelcome news that Towers’ mum would no longer pay for any of her son’s expenses.

He’s still at it! According to the IMDb, Towers, a former fugitive from justice, aged 88, is still an active producer of public domain classics, remakes and exploitation vehicles. Isn’t there some story that he finally quashed a prosecution under the Mann Act by arguing that the women he was immorally transporting were for the personal use of JFK? I seem to recall such a story, but I’d hate to think I was wronging the fellow. Wikipedia merely notes, “In 1983, Lobster Magazine ran a long article, citing many reliable sources, alleging Towers’ links with (among others) Stephen Ward, Peter Lawford, the Soviet Union, and a vice ring at the United Nations. Hearst Corporation newspapers had already mentioned Towers’ name in a 1963 article featuring coded references to a liaison between a pre-White House John F Kennedy and a known prostitute.” Okay, so I don’t seem to be wronging him MUCH. I welcome any JFK conspiracy theories involving the producer of FACE OF FU MANCHU.

Towers’ and Franco’s DRACULA seems to have come about because Christopher Lee had, at length, deplored the liberties Hammer Films were taking with Bram Stoker’s most famous character. Towers seduced Lee with the promise of a more faithful version, then staked him in the back — the only truly faithful element here is Dracula’s moustache.


The good points: Bruno Nicolai’s score is excellent, genuinely scary all by itself, and very effective when in conjunction with images of misty forests and wolves. Franco films largely on location, finding some picturesque and appropriate spots, even better than Herzog’s NOSFERATU. The guy does have a great eye for place, and many of his films are really like extended meditations on a given setting. Or, if you prefer, demented travelogues.

Towers was able to supply Franco with a better class of actor than he was used to, but these are often somewhat wasted in the context of a Franco zoom-fest. Herbert Lom is an ideal Van Helsing, and Klaus Kinski a beyond-perfect Renfield, but the latter has no lines. Christopher Lee looks bored. When a prostitute addresses him in saucy cockney, he gives her a miffed look as if to say, “You’re not in the source novel!”

For some odd reason, Towers’ writing is worse when he works with Franco. I treasure a moment in 99 WOMEN (Lom again, plus Mercedes McCambridge) where one woman in prison tells another that she’ll be destroyed by the hellish island they’re bound for, her beauty lost, her sanity, her life… then thoughtfully adds, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to depress you.” Maybe Towers meant the line to be read ironically. Franco plays it straight.

Yet Towers wrote most of those The Third Man radio shows that Welles acted in, which are jolly good fun. Welles wrote a couple himself, one of which evolved into MR. ARKADIN, although one has to remember that Guy Van Stratten, protag of that film, is a very different figure from Harry Lime (a shady character, but a hero in the radio version).




But one excellent thing DID come out of COUNT DRACULA, and that’s Pere Portabella’s CUADECUC-VAMPIR. Either an experimental film masquerading as a making-of documentary, or a making-of documentary masquerading as an experimental film, or both, or neither, it’s a magical oddity that has been little-seen, since Portabella has refused to allow it to be shown with Franco’s feature, correctly deducing that Franco’s feature is unadulterated kack, and perhaps incorrectly fearing that his film would be robbed of it’s wonderfully mystic atmos by associating with Franco’s big mess of bat droppings.

CUADECUC-VAMPIR seems to have been shot on two radically different film stocks, both b&w but one normal and the other insanely high-contrast. Sequences alternate between the two style. Portabella frequently films interactions between actors as if Franco’s camera wasn’t there (but omitting Towers and Stoker’s dialogue in favour of atmospheric music and abstract noise), but when he does show the crew it never feels like he’s revealing a separate element of the set-up. It’s hard to describe, but he’s creating a dreamlike semi-narrative out of all these disjointed comings and goings of actors in period costume, and the electric lights glaring at them are maybe intrusions from another era, the camera a device by which these Victorian figures are being viewed in our own age.

Frequently Portabella’s lens seems to by spying on the action, as indeed it is. He is forced out of the ideal camera position, and made to observe from a less favourable vantage. (Although when you see the Franco version, his angles are MUCH WORSE.) This gives the period drama a fly-on-the-wall aspect. And the loss of sound renders the narrative worryingly ungraspable, like the mysterious crimes in David Lynch’s Lumiere short.


One really great scene: a forest. A glossy black car bears us to our destination. Now a man runs through the woods with a smouldering tin on the end of the smoke, infusing the branches with billowing incense. The ceremony complete, he retires, and the invocation takes effect — emerging from the fumes, summoned from a bygone century, a horse and carriage rattles forth.

And WHO is THIS MAN???