Archive for Freddie Francis

Cats in the Brain

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2010 by dcairns

“The latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree.”

Both Lucio Fulci’s THE BLACK CAT and Sergio Martino’s more memorably titled YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY rework Poe’s “immortal classic” in lurid and rambling fashion, only really returning at the end to play the climax “straight”. Which kind of seems a mistake, since the visualisation of a recognised story flattens the delirium they’re otherwise aiming to evoke.

Bonuses include the charm of Fulci enacting his usual vicious brutality, with familiarly over-exposed, fumbling special effects, in a leafy English village — Fulci seems to have liked England, he set several movies there. There’s also the acting — Patrick Magee hams it up for Fulci (theory: by pushing his actors into extreme and contorted styles of playing, Kubrick may have actually ruined them — Nicholson was never quite the same after THE SHINING, and as for Magee…) in an amusingly out-of-control manner, palsied and weirdly enunciated.

The acting in Martino’s film is more traditionally “good”, with Anita Strindberg and Luigi Pistilli genuinely, uncomfortably unappealing in the leads, and some welcome sex appeal shipping in by the reliably underdressed Edwige Fenech. What disappointed me was the lack of swooning beauty and striking images, which are what I go to Italian horror for. I counted two lovely moments, though ~

When a preposterously over-the-top prostitute shows up in town, her near-instantaneous murder is a depressing inevitability. This disturbing little scene is one of the last things she sees. Love the doll.

Gratuitous lesbian love scene — with rather striking dissolve from two silhouettes.

Fulci being the mad doctor he is, his movie has a more consistent visual quality, with low-flying cat POV shots, and the cat himself is full of personality. Plot revolves — or spins, rather — around Magee’s tendency to astrally project his spirit into the cat and use it to do his murderous bidding, a sort of feline MONKEY SHINES avant la lettre.

By chance, in revisiting Freddie Francis and Robert Bloch’s horror compendium TORTURE GARDEN, for the sake of the third episode, in which Peter Cushing keeps a reanimated Poe in his cellar, churning out new tales of Mystery and the Imagination*, I realised that the film’s first episode was very much Poe-derived. Michael Bryant (a sort of Martin Amis type, crisply fervid with ciggie) murders a supposedly wealthy uncle (enabling Francis to repeat some of the persecuted-person-in-a-wheelchair he tried out first for Karel Reisz when he shot NIGHT MUST FALL) — so far, so Tell-Tale Heart. Then he unearths a coffin with a headless skeleton and a very much alive cat. This one isn’t pure black, so it photographs with more personality. As it psychically brainwashes Bryant, he speaks aloud the transmitted thoughts: as he says “you’re hungry,” Francis cuts to the little fellow licking his chops. Francis’s horrors always have a cheeky sense of humour.

* Cushing and Jack Palance are both huge fun (Cushing gets a drunks scene) and Francis blocks their conversations very nicely, and I don’t mind that the set wall visibly wobbles during their fight and I’m more bemused than annoyed that Palance plays a Brit and Cushing a yank, but really, the ending falls apart disastrously. It’s amusing that the great Poe collector has actually collected Poe himself, but the pay-off ought to involve something of the author’s personality, not just some diabolical double-cross. Still, the rest of the film has magnificent stuff from Burgess Meredith (as Dr Diablo) and Michael Ripper (as the personification of ubiquity).

For Anne Billson.

Paranoiacally Yours

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on August 16, 2010 by dcairns

Over at Electric Sheep Magazine, the “Deviant View of Cinema” is being upheld by yours truly, via an appreciation of Freddie Francis’s PARANOIAC, new on DVD. With added Oliver Reed.

Cave

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 23, 2009 by dcairns

That’s “cave” in the Latin sense, of course, meaning “beware.” Beware of TROG, one of the worst films I’ve yet sat through as part of my demented quest to experience every morsel of terror and ennui suggested by the photo-illustrations within Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies.

TROG it was, of course, that inspired a young John Landis to try his hand at film-making, on the basis that he would be bound to make a better movie than TROG.

Controversial question: has he done so yet?

(I think he has, and would cite AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON as a really tip-top genre piece with a jolly pleasing touristic view of England. I’m just being what you might call provocative. I’ve still to see Landis’s debut, the directly TROG-inspired comedy SCHLOCK.)

What makes TROG the more deplorable, more than its puerile screenplay, wooden supporting cast, more than the lip-smacking yet deeply rubbish performance from Michael Gough (working with material, it should be admitted, that would strike less courageous [or foolhardy] actors with mutism and paralysis through its sheer awfulness), more than the ape-man himself, who has a serviceable prosthetic ape-face, attached to a hairless, chubby body which is rather noticeably a different colour — more than any of this, the film should be regarded with terror and pity because it’s the last movie ever to star Joan Crawford.

Yep.

It also ended director Freddie Francis’s directing career, or nearly. It made him want to stop directing films (he returned to his first love, cinematography, with excellent results). In fact, FF carried on helming turkeys for another five years, and even made a comeback in 1985, murdering the late Dylan Thomas’s fine script of THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS. If Thomas had been alive to see that, or if the film’s bodysnatchers had dug him up and anatomist Timothy Dalton had somehow revived him from his earthy slumber, I don’t know what he would have done. Probably got drunk — which is the best way to approach TROG, I would suggest. Some have suggested that was the only way Joan could get through acting in it.

Yet, stone-cold sober I viewed the atrocity, in which badly-acted spelunkers are mauled by a neanderthal in a cave in Berkshire. Handy scientist  Dr Brockton (our Joan) goes down the hole with a tranquilizer gun and soon has “Trog” the apeman eating out of her hand. But local citizen Gough is up in arms about this “demon” devaluing housing prices, or something, so he breaks in to the lab one night and sets it free. Makes sense.

Cue amusing mayhem, ketchup for blood, dead bodies that visibly breathe, and a car that explodes just because Trog rolls it over. There’s a great scene where he wrestles a German shepherd that looks like its having the time of its life. A hint of the wretchedness herein can be gleaned from the fact that the world-class surgeon they get in to give Trog the power of speech (!) is played by Robert Hutton, last seen hereabouts revivifying the head of Nostradamus in THE MAN WITHOUT A BODY.

Is Trog’s head really stolen from 2001, as somebody suggests? I suspect it might be. It has the same nicely articulated lips. Of course, the guys in 2001 were lucky enough to get costumes that continued from the neck down. Certainly stolen from Irwin Allen’s THE ANIMAL WORLD is the lengthy sequence of fighting dinosaurs, psychedelically tinted, which stands for Trog’s flashback to his prehistoric youth (he’s been frozen underground for trillennia). The Willis O’Brien/Ray Harryhausen animation is the only real touch of class in the film, but stops the plot dead because it has nothing to do with anything in the story. I will pass over in silence the grave scientific error in presenting T-Rex and Trog as contemporaries.

(Allen’s nature film was so completely cannibalized for stock footage, that it’s thought that no complete print survives — although the animation is intact.)

Are there any other pleasures to be had in this mess of potage? I sort of liked the way all the younger actors just look as if they’re really chuffed at being in a film with Joan Crawford. I liked Trog’s strange grunts — his repeated cry of “Ugh!” would make a great capsule review for the movie. The bad dialogue should have been funny, but was mostly annoying — writer Aben Kandel (which looks like an anagram, but for what? Banned Leak? — the same chump worked on KONGA and CRAZE for the same wretched producer, Herman Cohen) — the fact that the writer doesn’t know a flashlight from a flashbulb, and that nobody corrected him, is just slightly dismaying.

Overall, the movie sort of makes you wish this had happened, for real, when they were shooting it ~

Now you can rush over to Amazon and buy this, as I know you’ll want to –

Trog

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 360 other followers