Archive for Dennis Gifford

Watch the Skis!

Posted in FILM with tags , , on October 30, 2008 by dcairns

The scientist’s niece, an Olympic figure-skater with an Olympian figure, wants to come along on the trip to investigate the strange meteor that made a horizontal landing in the wastes of Lapland. The offensive Swedish geologist hero refuses:

“Oh no, not this trip. You just stay here and look pretty until we get back.”

But, being a woman and everything, she has to come along anyway (it’s like they had minds of their own or something!), despite the landscape being littered with antlers strewn from reindeer dismembered by the big space thingummy, and soon she has been abducted by it.

This hairy fellow forms a frontispiece to Dennis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies — I’ve wanted to see him in action since I was about ten. I probably would have enjoyed it more then… but I still enjoyed it.

TERROR IN THE MIDNIGHT SUN. Admittedly, the terror takes a while to turn up. The offensive Swedish geologist hero and the scientist’s Olympic figure skating niece go skiing together… They listen to some xylophone jazz… These are pleasant activities, to be sure, but there’s a certain lack of dramatic tension, and a decided lack of midnight-sun-terror during this first half of the film. But, eventually…

“We’re standing before some kind of craft from outer space.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Well… look at it.”

Rampo: First Blood

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 25, 2008 by dcairns

Like a flaming banana fired from the trunk of an invisible elephant, this movie aims to surprise.

HORROR OF MALFORMED MEN. The very title speaks of subtlety amounting to minimalism, a tentative approach to the human emotions predicated upon the finest nuance and most delicate art of suggestion.

I stumbled upon this after mentioning to Fiona, once again, that it would be nice if we could work our way through all the films illustrated within Dennis Gifford’s big green book, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies. A romantic idea, since we both spent our respective childhoods engrossed in its pages, thinking that we’d never see ANY of these films, with the exception of a few Hammer and Universal staples. Matter of fact, I personally am uncertain if Gifford had seen half this stuff — his text mainly concentrates on the familiar few.

The modern age, with its Amazon and its bittorrents, suddenly offers new access to world cinema, practically erasing the concepts of rarity and inaccessibility. And so i find and, within hours, am watching, an apparently notorious but largely obscure and forgotten japsploitation epic of the ’60s.

Beginning in a sexy asylum full of comely lunatics, the flick swiftly genre-shifts from the ever-popular psychiatric porno into a SPELLBOUND-esque Hitchcock thriller, only more demented. Our escaped amnesiac hero (who insists, via V.O., that he’s sane) follows a trail of bizarro clues to find his true identity. Adopting a series of nutty disguises — a beard, which he apparently grows overnight; an eye-patch, which I always find helps stop people noticing you — discovers the recent death of his doppelganger, and resolves to assume the corpse’s identity, in the hopes of convincing the family that he was buried alive and resurrected. This seems reasonable enough, given that both men have a swastika carved into the heel of one foot, and that the dead man’s father has webbed fingers and runs a private island for the care of malformed men.

There’s some business with our hero trying to maintain his disguise, even dutifully shagging the dead man’s wife and mistress, and it’s not too interesting, to be honest — the movie, having sacrificed credence in the name of raw hallucinogenic sensation around about the one minute mark, can’t really generate any suspense out of the crazy hero’s imposture in a crazy house full of crazy people. But once we get to the island, we’re back into a clinically deranged stratosphere of overwhelming nonsense, where the sight of a half-naked woman tied to a goat’s arse is a mere taster for the sensations to come in this “perfect society”. Given the Dr. Moreau flavour of the insular set-up (except the Japanese Moreau doesn’t turn animals into “humans”, but instead turns normal “babies and old people” into mutant freaks) it seems likely Richard Stanley has seen this — reinventing Moreau from whip-wielding white bwana to white-robed cult leader getting lugged around in a litter is a move anticipated by this psychotic mastur-piece.

Having spent its first two-thirds in the non-Cartesian realms of Poe, Argento or Jodorowsky, the story now attempts to wrap itself up in a manner satisfying to the most logical fan of fair-play detective stories, which seems a wasted effort since any golden-age mystery fan has presumably fled for the hills beating themselves in the face with a Nero Wolfe collection around about act one. As a sop to the perverted, we get a green-tinged flashback in which a starving woman must feast on the crabs devouring her decomposing lover, so all is not lost.

This massed narrative closure also includes details like a drop of poison being run down a thread from the rafters of a house into a sleeping person’s mouth, as seen in James Bond’s Japanese adventure, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, already filmed at this point (1969). Director Teruo Ishii, who was directing until 2001 (last film: BLIND BEAST VS KILLER DWARF, a grudge match I’d pay good money to see) clearly has a delirious-if-incoherent sense of style and a complete lack of scruples, which always makes for an entertaining dinner companion, and he’s helped by a script that sometimes feels like a compendium of all Troma Productions’ titles, past and future, randomly shuffled in a dirty trough. The result has the hypnopompic poetry of a madman’s grocery list.

No doubt much of the malfeasance is down to the source novel by Edogawa Rampo, whose nom-de-plume can best be understood by saying it rapidly in a fake Japanese accent (think Colonel Saito in BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI). If that doesn’t work, think of the author of The Raven, but sit down first or you may start chuckling uncontrollably and before you know it end up like this guy:

“I want you to build a statue of a horse-headed god to protect this island. It will have three heads and eleven tails. It is to be be crowned with a living horse’s head. It has been my dream for thirty years. Use living human flesh to build it. There will never be a greater challenge for a medical graduate.”

You know something? He’s not wrong!

Ten Bad Dates With Roddy McDowall

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 12, 2008 by dcairns

“It was all going so well! And then I had to say that thing about the bridge. Stupid! Stupid!”


You really don’t need to see this film, unless like us at Shadowplay you grew up with a copy of Dennis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies in the house, or regularly borrowed from the library. Other monster movie books might also do the trick, or Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine (I only ever discovered one outlet that carried this publication as a kid. While on holiday. I could only afford two issues, which was a wrenching choice to make as they all looked so tasty. There was no possibility of buying more… There was a big article about BARBARELLA, which my mum wouldn’t let me watch when it came on TV, and an ad in the back for something called EQUINOX.)

If, like me, you were exposed to the right kind of literature in childhood, you probably saw a still of the big stone guy in this movie. You probably marvelled at his massive stone body, mighty stone limbs, big stone skirt and pointy stone head. He doesn’t look like any other monster. And what you demand most of all from your monsters is NOVELTY, so that has to be good. Having seen quite a bit of Dr. Who, you might have suspected that the Golem would be less impressive in motion that he is in a still image. And you’d have been right. But children of the pre-C.G.I. age, we expected our monsters to lumber, didn’t we? If they jerked across the screen in a Harryhausen strobe of animation, so much the better. But we certainly never wanted them to slink around, weightless, in a series of algorithms.

Anyhow, CURSE OF THE GOLEM is written and directed by Herbert J. Leder, auteur of such cinematic goitres as THE FROZEN DEAD and THE CHILD MOLESTOR.  Good luck with that career, Herbert.

One hates to judge a film-maker’s personality by their work (gloomy Bergman was known to his friends for a great deal of jollity, sentimental Frank Capra once punched his wife unconscious), but going by this film I would probably characterise Mr. Leder as a BIG IDIOT. Roddy McDowall, as Arthur Gordon Pym (!) finds he can command an ancient Jewish statue to do his bidding. Since he lives with his mother’s decayed corpse (though this has no real bearing on the story, and no explanation), he’s probably not the best person to be granted this awesome power. He uses it to kill his boss, and in a failed attempt to impress Otto Preminger babe Jill Haworth. It seems golems are good at bludgeoning irksome employers, but utterly useless as an aid to modern dating.

Paul Wegener doing his cute, Susannah Hoffs-style look-to-the-side.

The golem seem to me an underused monster. Paul Wegener portrayed the animate clay statue thrice, in DER GOLEM of 1915, sequel THE GOLEM AND THE DANCING GIRL two years later, and prequel/secret origin THE GOLEM: HOW HE CAME INTO THE WORLD, which is the version that survives.

Although he was certainly some kind of influence on Hollywood’s FRANKENSTEIN, the golem never surfaced in a bona fide Hollywood remake, instead emigrating to France, where he raises his ugly head in Julien Duvivier’s characteristically stylish LE GOLEM of 1936, which incorporates imagery from FRANKENSTEIN while essentially reprising the original Golem legend dramatised by Wegener. Many of the pre-Nouvelle Vague filmmakers deserve to be rediscovered, and I carry a special torch for Duvivier, whose PANIQUE and LA FIN DU JOUR strike me as truly major works, on the verge of being completely forgotten.

1951 gives us an authentic Czech golem at last, in THE EMPEROR’S BAKER AND THE GOLEM, a comic fantasy directed by Martin Fric, which guest-stars a wonderfully monumental golem who can’t actually articulate his limbs, and therefore walks like a chair.

Since then, there doesn’t seem to have been a really truly golem-centred movie, although ceramic heavies have occasionally disported themselves upon the screen in a supporting capacity. I’d welcome a good remake, or else an adaptation of Gustav Meyrink’s fantastic novel The Golem, in which the colossus does not actually appear, but assumes a kind of allegorical omnipresence in the story. My colleague, B. Kite, the Brooklyn Behemoth, himself a stony homunculus enlivened by rabbinical sorcery, once co-authored an atmospheric and highly imaginative screenplay based on this work.

Anyhoo. Some Youtubing genius has helpfully provided this abridged version that allows you to consume the whole thing at a single, ten-minute sitting. Had I realised this I could have saved myself eighty minutes or so.

Here, by way of a palette-cleanser, is the great Jiri Barta’s animated THE GOLEM, a pilot/trailer for a feature Barta hopes to complete. The collapse of communism in Europe (a good thing in itself, don’t get me wrong) has left many brilliant artists like Barta and the incomparable Yuri Norstein stranded in a marketplace they have no experience dealing with. Somebody help!

The more numerate Shadowplayers among you may have noticed that this post contains only one bad date with Roddy MacDowall. I maintain that one bad date with Roddy is worth ten with anyone else, but I’m happy for you to nominate nine more if you feel up to it.

STOP PRESS! What the heck is THIS?