Archive for Hammer

“People melting, indeed!”

Posted in FILM, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2015 by dcairns

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The above scornful remark by a Scottish policeman in X: THE UNKNOWN (1956) recalls the words of the burgomaster in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN: “Monster , indeed!” And screenwriter Jimmy Sangster probably knew his Universal horrors, as he was about to write CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.

The perils of a little knowledge: IMDb attributes the film to Leslie Norman, the credited director, and Joseph Losey, and I thought I could see traces of Losey’s trademark snaky tracking shots, but reading more I learn that Losey was removed before production began. as star Dean Jagger refused to work with a blacklisted commie. A shame. Losey had made a short film for Hammer (the turgid A MAN ON THE BEACH) and would eventually shoot THE DAMNED for the studio, but he wasn’t too sorry to be removed from this hokum. Hammer had wanted a Quatermass sequel, I believe, but author Nigel Kneale had refused to allow his creation into the hands of another writer. A shame, in some ways, since the character played by token yank Jagger is closer to Kneale’s conception than the bellowing lout played by Brian Donlevy in THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT.

I had tried to watch this with Fiona once, but we got bored of the muddy quarry setting, which seemed to go on forever. The grumbling squaddies played by the likes of Anthony Newley and Kenneth Cope got sick of it and their lack of enthusiasm was infectious. Seeing it properly, I can’t understand this, as the movie is OK and for heaven’s sake, it’s a quasi-Quatermass set in Scotland. We should have been all over that shit.

My friend Alex, with whom I’ve been writing a Quatermass-inspired project, said he remembered this one improving as it went on. But later, when we discussed it, it turned out that he’d mentally grafted the last half of QUATERMASS II onto the front half of X, so naturally it improved. And somehow the bits went together quite well.

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If the film were in colour you’d be able to see that hapless young Kenneth Cope, centre, is wearing a red shirt. Yes, that’s a Star Trek joke.

The monster in the Scottish Quatermass turns out to be mud, which seems kind of apt given the weather. Radioactive mud from the earth’s core, explained by a shambolic bit of Sangster pseudo-science. But, as often with Sangster’s all-thumbs scripting, apparent mistakes or clumsy inconsistencies can be oddly evocative. On the surface, the film has little of the anti-militarism of Kneale’s writing, although the army try to dynamite the monster and then cement over the fissure it oozes from, so they’re idiots. But the best bit is the Geiger counter test — a group of soldiers are training in the use of Geiger counters when they happen to stumble upon the exact spot where the radioactive monster is going to emerge. It’s a fairly global coincidence, but that isn’t the best bit. The inevitable Michael Ripper tells his men that in a real radiation situation, they would be required to mark the spot and get out fast, as radiation can be very nasty. When, seconds later, the pale and trembling young Kenneth Cope does indeed find real radiation, he is ordered to stand on the spot so everyone can see where it is. He dies horribly.

This cheered me up no end, and made me feel the movie would be worth watching as soon as we could get out of the muddy quarry. And we do, to a couple of nuclear labs and a few simpler sets. The nearby village, Lochmouth, is scene of a great bit once the blob gets properly oozing — forced perspectives allow a very small blob to pretend to be a very big blob. For most of the film, the blob is absent, like Godot, though Leslie Norman does grant us a couple of blob’s-eye-view attacks. Before there was Michael Myer, there was X: THE UNKNOWN. X is also an unusual character in that he gets to physically embody his own main title, a gloopy X of rippling oily matter. Even Marlon Brando never got to embody a title, though clearly such an approach could have greatly enhanced his later work.

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Red-hating Dean Jagger is, appropriately, on the right, whereas Leo McKern is, like, whatevs.

Then Leo McKern turns up. Like chocolate, Leo McKern makes everything a bit better. I think even chocolate-coated rabies would be a bit better than the normal kind. But I’m unsure if a chocolate-coated Leo McKern would sort of cancel himself out. Anyway, I suspect he was Losey’s idea — his next film would be TIME WITHOUT PITY for that director. I was a little disappointed that McKern’s policeman character wasn’t given more to do — Sangster has crowded the film with largely benign authority figures who get on much too well together — and he accepts with complete credulity the theory that the radiation slayings plaguing this rural locale are the work of some mud. A scene of Leo angrily rejecting such a supposition could easily have been the best scene in the picture.

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Priest rescues little girl from blob, which is trickling listlessly through gap in dry-stone wall in front of a painting of Scottish scenery — and the little girl wins the movie’s best acting award by laughing her head off throughout. Nobody, it seems, had the heart (or energy?) to dub on screams.

Instead, the best bit is when makeup guru/top splodger Phil Leakey and effects wiz Les Bowie make a doctor melt. The doc has arranged a romantic tryst with a sexy nurse in the hospital’s “radiation room.” Because what woman can resist a proposition like that? The amorous medico’s disintegration is served up with two shots, a swelling finger closeup which suggests a Tom & Jerry hammer-to-the-thumb gag, while also looking forward to that staple of seventies and eighties horror, the bladder effect. Then there’s a LOST ARK type flesh-melt,all the most striking for its brevity. Lucio Fulci would have gotten a full minute out of that bit, but HE WOULD HAVE BEEN WRONG.

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Ha! The sign omits to mention that it’s the SEXY Radiation Room. OF DEATH.

So now commie-hating Dean Jagger has to kill the mud with special science. I liked the fact that the film’s ending hinges upon the need to zap the mud before it decides to rampage through Inverness. The film is a product of a gentler age, in which our empathy for Inverness was presumed to be strong enough to motivate a film’s climax. And I like the fact that Jagger is persuaded to use an experimental technique which, if it fails, is going to cause a gigantic explosion much more devastating than the mud monster.

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And then I *really* like the bizarre ending, when the mud-monster is blown up, and there follows a mysterious second explosion from the bowels of the earth. Dean Jagger is deeply perturbed. It shouldn’t have happened. Every one else is, like, whatevs, we blew up the mud didn’t we? But Jagger remains perturbed. And then the film abruptly ENDS, a colossal fuck-you to the curious. It’s not enough to constitute a typical horror movie closeup-of-a-bee sequel promise. It’s not pointed enough, specific enough. It’s just bloody weird, like Sangster started to write a final twist and then couldn’t be bothered, and then couldn’t be bothered XXX-ing out the bit he’d started.

Maybe they used up all their Xs in the title.

Cool Robot

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2014 by dcairns

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Cool robot from OLD MOTHER RILEY MEETS THE VAMPIRE, aka MY SON THE VAMPIRE, a retitling by Columbia which makes no sense — Lugosi’s character has no parents in the film, and Mother Riley is Irish, not Jewish. She’s also a man, Arthur Lucan. In his memoirs, Ken Russell writes about this alarming, unfunny theatrical drag act as if it was all that was on offer from British cinema. I suppose it must have seemed so to him as a child — his mother scorned British movies and they would go to proper American musicals whenever they had the option.

But it’s a cool robot.

Interesting how director and writer John Gilling’s career kept circling around the horror genre, whether it was writing for Tod Slaughter or Bela Lugosi, until he finally made his mark at Hammer. I think I’ll run his PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES soon — I don’t think I’ve ever actually watched it.

Meanwhile, I’m back in Edinburgh, and just listened to Jan Harlan give a lecture on film music. More on that soon.

My Theory #2: Kubrick = Hammer

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2013 by dcairns

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Part Two of my Big Theory. Part One concerns the influence of Universal horror movies on Orson Welles. Part Two is the influence of Hammer Horror on Stanley Kubrick.

(Welles and Kubrick, two fans of the wide-angle lens, belong together because of Welles’ description of the young SK as “a giant” — later, Welles seems to fall silent on the subject of the Bronx genius, and as an arch-humanist it seems possible he went off Kubes’ work sometime after LOLITA…)

I’m not sure how this will hold up, but let’s assess the evidence. Firstly, casting —

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Kubrick’s first British-shot picture, LOLITA, features only one major player with Hammer associations, Marianne Stone (above), reaching a career high with her interpretation of Vivian Darkbloom (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov). Her involvement with Hammer films was off-and-on, and she also played in many British horror movies from other studios.

Hammer films before LOLITA: SPACEWAYS, THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT, QUATERMASS II,

Non-genre Hammer films before LOLITA: HELL IS A CITY

Non-Hammer horror films: CORRIDORS OF BLOOD, HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, JACK THE RIPPER, THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE.

Hammer films after LOLITA: PARANOIAC, THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB, HYSTERIA, COUNTESS DRACULA, Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense. Non-Hammer horrors: WITCHCRAFT, DEVILS OF DARKNESS, THE NIGHT CALLER, CARRY ON SCREAMING, BERSERK, TWISTED NERVE, INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED, WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO?, TOWER OF EVIL, THE CREEPING FLESH, VAULT OF HORROR, CRAZE (one of many contenders for Freddie Francis’s worst film).

That’s not going to convince anybody that Stone’s Hammer work or horror movies was what brought her to Kubrick’s attention.

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But the scene where Humbert Humbert takes his wife and step-daughter to the drive-in to see CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN might make an impression on doubters. This is the only Kubrick film to feature Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

But DR STRANGELOVE doesn’t feature anybody with major Hammer credentials, except Shane Rimmer, whose Hammer work, major though it was, was all in the future. In 2001, we have William Sylvester, who had been in GORGO, DEVIL DOLL and DEVILS OF DARKNESS, but he’s plainly been cast because he’s an American in England. But Leonard Rossiter was in THE WITCHES.

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It’s with CLOCKWORK ORANGE that Kubrick embraces the trashier side of British culture. Most significantly, we see Alex (Malcolm McDowell) fantasizing about being Count Dracula, with long plastic fangs and red red kroovy dripping from his lips. This second overt Hammer reference clinches the Kubrick fascination for the Studio That Dripped Blood, and check the cast list —

I contend that Patrick Magee wasn’t cast for his Beckett experience, but for DEMENTIA 13, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, THE SKULL and DIE, MONSTER, DIE! admittedly not Hammer productions but generically bang-on. Also for his unparalleled ability to form himself into  a series of living Messerschmidt Heads, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, THE FIEND, ASYLUM, DEMONS OF THE MIND and — AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS were still to come — followed by BARRY LYNDON.

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Scottish actress Adrienne Corri had a long genre back catalogue, and her future would feature even more entries. To begin with we have DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS, CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (again), THE HELLFIRE CLUB, THE VIKING QUEEN and MOON ZERO TWO (both Hammer). Right after working for Kubrick, she made VAMPIRE CIRCUS, and later MADHOUSE. Despite Renoir’s THE RIVER, horror movies will probably always be what she’s known for (along with being stripped to her socks for Kubrick’s dubious delectation).

Aubrey “PR Deltoid” Morris made BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB the same year as CLOCKWORK ORANGE so we probably can’t count that. Dave Prowse had already done HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN and would soon shoot VAMPIRE CIRCUS and FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL. And some space thing. Steven Berkoff had done THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS, KONGA and SLAVE GIRLS, and would return in BARRY LYNDON.

The girls: Katya Wyeth, from the film’s final shot, came fresh from TWINS OF EVIL and HANDS OF THE RIPPER (in the important role of 1st Pub Whore). Virginia Wetherell had done CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR and DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE. Shirley Jaffe was fresh from TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA. Vivienne Maya chalked up LUST FOR A VAMPIRE and TWINS OF EVIL — her best role is as the flashback girlfriend in A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE.

Of course, I admit the difficulty of casting a dolly-bird in 1971 who had NOT been in a Hammer horror or two. But now we come to BARRY LYNDON.

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The casting of Andre Morell strikes me as highly significant — Morell isn’t as tightly bound to Hammer in the public consciousness as Cushing and Lee, or Michael Ripper, but he should be. He was Quatermass on TV (an indirect link) and Watson to Cushing’s Holmes; THE SHADOW OF THE CAT, SHE, PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, THE MUMMY’S SHROUD, VENGEANCE OF SHE, and a number on non-horror Hammers including the terrific CASH ON DEMAND. Plus non-Hammer horrors like BEHEMOTH THE SEA MONSTER.

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Frank Middlemass had come from FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED. Ferdy Mayne will be best remembered as Polanski’s Count Von Krolock, but also chalked up THE VAMPIRE LOVERS.

THE SHINING refers to Hammer only in its genre, but a comparison with THE EXORCIST is revealing, Kubrick having attempted to make a megablockbuster throughout his late career by patterning his films on the biggest box office smashes of history. But each of these films goes through the Kubrick funhouse looking-glass and emerges as something no sane person would expect to rake in the receipts — BARRY LYNDON purloins the child’s death from GONE WITH THE WIND, THE SHINING aims for THE EXORCIST and winds up in MARIENBAD country, and A.I. wants to be E.T. but can’t help its mechanical nature, like little Haley Joel Osment and the late Stankey K. himself.

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FULL METAL JACKET is too American and too young to borrow Hammer actors, and by the time of EYES WIDE SHUT most of them were dead. However, with its quasi-Satanic shagging party, the movie seems to be channeling sixties and seventies horrors, particularly Corman’s MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (and maybe CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR? And if there were a film called STENCH OF THE SCARLET PENCIL I’m sure that would have been an influence too).

Taking My Big Theory to its logical conclusion, we would have to say that Welles follows the path of Whale by telling moral tales in which nevertheless the truest, deepest sympathy is with the monsters; Kubrick follows the Sangster and Fisher route by portraying a world in which the oppressive patriarchy, though corrupt and inhuman, is the nearest thing to a safe side to be on…

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