Archive for Hammer

Cornish, pasty

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2017 by dcairns

“Doesn’t this one have some kind of political subtext?” asked Fiona as I prompted a viewing of PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, Hammer’s sole walking-dead opus. And it sort of does. It might be due for a revival, actually, since Trump is supposedly bringing coal back.

I couldn’t remember if I’d seen this before. And possibly a year from now I won’t remember having seen it. But it’s not devoid of interest, the points of interest just didn’t come thick and fast enough to entirely satisfy.

I’d read about the film in the Gifford and had a strong memory of the image of a zombie, face contorted in a horrible mask-like grin, holding an unconscious — in fact, as I discovered, DEAD — girl. I hadn’t realized that the girl was the striking Jacqueline Pearce or that the zom was Ben Aris, best known as a comedy actor. He executes one of the great pratfalls of all time in ROYAL FLASH, having been hit with a champagne bottle at a locomotive christening ceremony. Of course, he was tall, which is why he was chosen here. Hammer nearly cast loveable CARRY ON film dope Bernard Bresslaw as the creature in CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, you know. Had they done so, and then gone on to cast him as Dracula, probably none of us would be here today.

I also remembered reading Leslie Halliwell’s snarky remark, in an otherwise fairly positive review — why doesn’t the Cornish tin mine owner simply employ normal workers instead of reanimating the dead? Well, obviously a zombie labour force would have advantages, not needing food or rest, and being incapable of independent action and thence, industrial action. And in any case, the film tells us that the history of fatal accidents at the mine is what put off the living employees. Using animate corpses is Health & Safety Gone Mad!

As ever in Hammer, the unsympathetic portrait of the landed gentry is balanced by an unappealing depiction of the lumpenproletariat, with surly local yokels and a stupid, scowling policeman played by the inescapable Michael Ripper.

The B-list cast is helpful in some ways — André Morrell, a fine Dr. Watson, is here cast as staunch Dr. Forbes — the good guys, of course, are solidly middle-class. And the fact that he’s not Peter Cushing allows us to forget, some of the time, that he’s playing an absolute Peter Cushing role. John Carson, doing his very best James Mason voice, is a fair but un-sexy substitute for either Christopher Lee or, at a push, Charles Gray. When the good doctor starts talking about waiting for a recently deceased female to reanimate, we know we’re in terribly familiar terrain.

Famously, director John Gilling anticipates a lot of Romeroesque imagery and action with a dream sequence in which he goes hand-held and deutsch-tilted as the recently deceased haul themselves from their graves and surround the hero in billows of dry ice fog. It gives the film a boost, and makes you wish they had gone for more ad hoc cinematography more of the time, though a pursuit sequence with fox-hunters chasing a girl — borrowed from HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES — also benefits from a lot of panting wobble in the camera department. Throw in some full-blooded crash zooms and you have something a bit more modish in technique that Terence Fisher’s classical approach.

The lighting only gets seriously stylish in the mine interior, where the sulphurous coloured gels make for an almost Bavaesque look, and Gilling gets some nice compositions by posing some of his undead workmen close to the lens, staring sightlessly past us.

Miniature coffins are always creepy, but sadly the plasticine and ketchup approach to voodoo dolls is disappointing, and the female dolls all have big boobs, which looks silly.

Framegrabbing the climax, where the mouldy miners catch fire, we can see the flame-retardant masks worn by the stunt artists, and very scary they are too. Only Aris’s zombie makeup is very effective — the other stiffs, with their pancake pallor, seem slapdash — so the masks, which looks a lot like actual mummified bodies, could have been a good way to go. They also remind me of this mask, worn by the Reverend Alexander Peden when he was a fugitive in Scotland in the 17th century. The original Leatherface!

Halloween soon. Try making one of these. Your neighbours will shit themselves.

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Histories and Legacies

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2017 by dcairns

Me and Richard Lester. Photo by Sheldon Hall, complete with psychedelic projections. Thanks, Sheldon!

The image above was taken at the symposium British Cinema in the 1960s: Histories and Legacies at the BFI Southbank on Thursday. This was Part 2 of the conference I presented at last week. It was lovely to see Richard again, and meet Neil Sinyard, who literally wrote the book on him, and to acquire the latest edition of said book at a hefty academic discount, and hear more of his stories of his early career. Many of these appear in Andrew Yule’s book The Man Who “Framed” the Beatles, but Richard tells them better.

Academic conferences are strange things — rather jolly, though. I couldn’t believe the obscurity of some of the stuff under discussion. In York, there had been a paper based on research into the completion bond guarantor’s notes on  Joseph Losey’s FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE. In London, there were entries on the Children’s Film Foundation, the production design of IF…., censorship and colour in Hammer films (centering on that naughty studio’s practice of submitting b&w prints of colour films, to disguise the gore) and trade advertisements for Eastmancolor. I was in hog heaven, glorying in the utter abstruseness of this info. I also learned about a few films I hadn’t seen (or, in the case of TWO GENTLEMEN SHARING, even heard of). And I made some new friends.

Also: a stunning 35mm screening of PETULIA.

My idea of academia before attending the conference.

Sandy Lieberson and David Puttnam were interviewed on Wednesday, and Rita Tushingham on Thursday. So it wasn’t all about the obscure byways of the business. Some of the papers were critical analyses, Charles Drazin using Lindsay Anderson’s relationship with his former headmaster as a lens through which to re-examine IF….’s politics. Others were historical, based on archival digging or interviews. There were a trio of presentations based around the public’s memories of cinema-going at the time, looking at sexual attitudes (and behaviour in the dark of the auditorium), responses to the fantasy of Swinging London, and the difficulties of getting to a screen if you lived in the countryside. There was lots on Ken Loach (KES and POOR COW) but I was even happy to hear about that.

My only criticism would be the lack of analysis of the visual, of the craft of filmmaking. There was some of this, and there were a good number of papers which dealt with areas far removed from the art of framing, cutting, mixing, in which technique wasn’t relevant. But in some of the actual discussion of movies, the “close analysis” was confined to the story and dialogue, with the cinematic approach completely ignored. I suppose it’s inevitable when the people looking at films are word people. Richard Lester got in a gentle crack about academia when he said that he had expected that A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, once it had fulfilled its ephemeral pop-culture purpose in 1964, would only be of interest “in, well, frankly, rooms like this.”

(Of course, my paper was on a screenwriter, so I give myself a free pass on this issue.)

My idea of academia after attending the conference.

I’d go again! My odd situation is that, as a teaching fellow at Edinburgh College of Art, I’m not officially expected to do what they call “research,” although I only just found this out. For years, they’ve been asking me to tell me all about my research activities, and I’ve obliged, but none of my filmmaking or criticism really counts as academic research. Can I even claim expenses for my trip? I don’t know. If I can, I’d go to lots of these things! To me, it was just like a science fiction convention, only without the cosplay, and more fun.

 

Feature the World Forgot

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on April 4, 2017 by dcairns

Edited highlights of the cast list of CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT, Hammer’s third caveman epic. Just skip over it lightly, it’s not that thrilling in itself.

Julie Ege – Nala
Brian O’Shaughnessy – Mak
Tony Bonner – Toomak
Robin John – Rool
Marcia Fox – The Mute Girl
Rosalie Crutchley – The Old Crone
Don Leonard – The Old Leader
Beverly Blake – The Young Lover
Sue Wilson – Noo
Ken Hare – The Fair Leader
Derek Ward – The Hunter
Fred Swart – The Marauder Leader
Frank Hayden – Zen
Leo Payne – The Old Tribal Artist
Tamsin Millard – Rock Woman in Fight
Christine Hudson – Rock Woman in Fight
Cheryl Stewardson – Rock Girl
Samantha Bates – Rock Girl
Debbie Aubrey-Smith – Rock Girl
Audrey Allen – Rock Mother
Vera P. Crosdale – Old Rock Woman
Mildred Johnston – Old Rock Woman
Lilian M. Nowag – Old Rock Woman
Mark Russell – Rock Man
Dick Swain – Rock Man
Mike Dickman – Rock Man
John Hollis – Masked Attacker

Hammer made ONE MILLION YEARS BC which had excellent Ray Harryhausen dinosaurs and attractive starlets in fur bikinis. Then they made WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH which had excellent Jim Danforth dinosaurs and attractive starlets who took off their fur bikinis. Then they made CREATURES, which had no dinosaurs whatsoever and attractive starlets who hardly seemed to put their fur bikinis on at all.

The “stories” were never very great but they still managed to markedly decline across the informal tits-and-lizards trilogy, to the point where CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT makes ONE MILLION YEARS BC look like frickin’ Crime and Punishment. Hammer producer (boss’s son) Michael Carreras gave himself the job of writing it, because he was in a position to do so. Even though nobody else would have hired him to write an eye chart. True, he wrote BC also, but that was a remake. Left to his own devices, without a previously constructed narrative, he begins this one with the main characters being born, then sits back for twenty minutes while they grow up and we await the arrival of a plot. Jesus. In the absence of comprehensible dialogue, Michael Carreras, you had one job. Tell us a story.

The film is pretty near unwatchable for grown-ups and unsuitable for children. I can recommend it only to the senile or unborn.

The film isn’t even very useful for students of cinema to analyse as a bad example, because it’s awfulness is so obvious. And the thought experiment “How would I improve this?” can be answered in an infinite number of ways. Anything you do would improve it.

But I have one thought. Change the character names — make them the same as the actor’s names. It can still be in cavemanese, if you like, but make the leading lady a Julie, and her boyfriend a Brian. Hilarity ensues. Think of it! cavepersons called Audrey, Ken, Tamsin and Tony! Truly, when something is a sterile fantasy with no connection to the real, a dose of the mundane will spice it up. And when something is stale, flat and unprofitable social realism, a dash of surrealism is what you need.

“Mike!”

“Ugga ook heek moop, Mildred.”

“Nakk! Vera P. Crosdale acka pikk ungo, Derek.”

“Samantha! Cheryl! Urk anga!”

It would still be pretty low on my list of prehistoric adventures, but it would be better.