Archive for Hanns Heinz Ewers

The Sunday Intertitle: A Not-So-Modern Prometheus

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 25, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2015-10-25-09h55m18s210

The once-lost German serial HOMUNCULUS (1916) is slowly becoming less lost — an authentic full restoration may never be possible, but we’re promised we’re going to be able to see the whole story in approximately the right order, one day.

I’ve been looking at the surviving fragments. Otto Rippert directed — I never saw anything else from his prolific silent career. But the writer is Robert Reinert, later director of the hysterical, psychotronic OPIUM and NERVEN, so that cued me to expect drama at a fairly high pitch, and I was not disappointed.

Hanns Heinz Ewers had already published his perverse novel of artificial life, Alraune (later filmed thrice) at this point, and of course there was Frankenstein as a role model. I was immediately struck, though, by an odd, and most certainly coincidental connection with THE OMEN.

The truncated episode one begins with two births, one natural and one unnatural. Scientists place a glass sphere inside a special curvy cabinet, and after an undetermined period of gestation, pull out a wriggling baby. That’s the unnatural birth. I presume I don’t have to explain the processes involved in kickstarting the natural one.

vlcsnap-2015-10-25-10h00m31s224

Death! Dead the baby of love, while the science one lives. My Italian is excellent. Self-taught.

There’s a fuddy-duddy scientist who gesticulates a lot — since this section of the film is available only with Italian intertitles, this seems kind of appropriate. This guy strongly disapproves of artificial babies. But then the child born to his household dies in its cot, and he abandons his scruples, switching the corpslet with the thriving-but-unnatural kid from down the block. The stage is set for tragedy — and for Gregory Peck to do something similar in Rome, sixty years later. Obviously, this isn’t going to end well. Or soon. (the full serial is six hours.)

The creation of life is notably undramatic compared to similar operations in METROPOLIS and FRANKENSTEIN (even the Edison version of 1910), but the weird equipment is impressive, and since it has no moving parts and no recognized scientific principle seems to be involved, it hasn’t dated at all. I believe it.

vlcsnap-2015-10-25-10h33m14s192

Carl Hoffmann’s cinematography is astounding. We’re still in tableaux mode, largely, but the lighting! Hoffmann’s later career includes major collaborations with Murnau and Lang, but he’s clearly a great artist already.

Advertisements

Bone and Sinew

Posted in literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2014 by dcairns

Boneless

The best episode of Dr. Who this season was called “Flatline”, written by Jamie Mathieson and featuring aliens from a two-dimensional universe, known as “the boneless.” This season has featured an influx of big screen talent — Frank Cottrell Boyce (writer of 24HR PARTY PEOPLE); Ben Wheatley (director of A FIELD IN ENGLAND) and Rachel Talalay (TANK GIRL), but ironically these have all been trumped by Mathieson, who has only one cinema credit, and director Douglas MacKinnon, whose several other Who episodes have not reached such heights of atmosphere and excitement. The combination of a lively story full of ideas, both amusing and creepy, and a well-conceived look for the baddies (inspired by 3D printer glitches — this gives them a Francis Bacon quality) brought out the best in everyone.

***

This will all link up in the end. For my birthday, my parents gave me some goodies including Best Movie Stories, a review copy of a 1969 anthology of cinema-themed short fiction. While it was delightful to read Noel Coward referring to “the Beverley Hills” (that definite article still cracks me up, obscurely), the big hits for me were the tales by William Saroyan, O.K., Baby, This is the World, and Gerald Kersh, The Dogs Bark, but the Caravan Passes, which is actually the last part of a novel, An Ape, a Dog and a Serpent.

I resolved to seek out more Saroyan and Kersh.

boneless1

***

More or less at once, a copy of The Fifth Pan Book of Horror Stories fell off my shelf. Like Best Movie Stories, this was a second-hand bookshop purchase, and it turns out to contain a story by Kersh, Men Without Bones. It’s quite Lovecraftian, with maybe some Quatermass thrown in. It doesn’t make all that much sense but stirs up some creepiness and revulsion, with its armies of small, fat, jelly-like boneless men.

Anyhow, that connects up with Dr. Who, doesn’t it?

***

So now I’ve bought Fowler’s End, supposed by many to be Kersh’s best novel, a black comedy of London life in the early thirties, set around a decrepit cinema showing silent films. Here’s how Kersh describes the central light fixture in the auditorium ~

“From a peeling brass-plated rod fixed in the centre of the roof hung a kind of orange-and-green dustbin made of glass lozenges. If there is such a thing as brown light, brown light leaked out of the top of this contraption, making a shapeless pattern which, when you looked at it, took away your will to live. Looking up as a quicksand closes over your head, you see such a light and such a pattern as the last bubble bursts.”

Like Edinburgh Filmhouse, the Fowler’s End Pantheon is housed in a former church, in this case one created by a sect called the Nakedborners. It’s owned by a grotesque caricature of the Jewish entrepreneur, a vulgar, crooked lunatic called Sam Yudenow, whom the Jewish Kersh has great fun making as flamboyantly repulsive as possible. Kersh is also the originator of Night and the City and London low-life was his metier, though he also wrote sci-fi and horror and journalism and whatever paid the bills.

***

bonel

Addendum: in an old volume entitled St Michaels’ 65 Tales of Horror — published by the shop chain Marks & Spencer in the 70s, and containing a story, The Spider by Hanns Heinz Ewers, which I filmed in 1993 (the text still has orange highlighter where I underlined the useful bits), I find another Kersh, Comrade Death. It is astonishing, horrific.

“And then again, gas; I can show you some quite amazing things the Necrogene has done to men. They have twisted themselves into positions — well, I tell you, if they had studied acrobatics all their lives they could never have achieved such contortions! Amazing! One poor fellow bit himself in the small of the back. But you’d never believe. Come, let me show you —”

Brrr.

Shit Happens

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-01-03-13h00m39s172

THE VAMPIRE HAPPENING is a late-career travesty from Freddie Francis. It was pretty obviously going to be terrible post-synched nonsense from the off, but I kept watching, lured in by two strange, pataphysical coincidences. Firstly, the vampire lady is called Clarimonde, which is the name of the vampire in a film I made, also called CLARIMONDE. The name comes from the Hanns Heinz Ewers story I was adapting, and he got it from another story, La Morte Amoreuse, by Theophile Gautier. Having discovered that one, I pilfered a speech from it, using the beautiful translation provided by Lafcadio Hearn, thus involving three masters of the supernatural in one fourteen-minute film (or four masters if you count me. OK, four masters.)

The second coincidence occurs at the airport scene near the start of the film — European seventies horror movies are addicted to airport scenes — see also THE HORRIBLE SEXY VAMPIRE, BARON BLOOD, and especially LISA AND THE DEVIL. This is odd, since airports are the least supernatural or Gothic places in existence, although they are very seventies. Even today.

(I never thought of them as spooky until I found myself at Marco Polo Aeroport coming back from Pordenone, and it was entirely deserted. And after I had a nice chat with the man working the baggage x-ray (when they airport is quiet, these people are relaxed and fun to chat to) I was proceeding into the echoing depths of the empty air-mausoleum, and his voice boomed out of the tannoy wishing me a happy flight, by name. THAT was spooky.)

The weird coincidence though was a voice on the PA announcing the next flight to “Slabovia,” which is a fictional East European country, sort of an anti-Ruritania, invented by me for a Channel 4 education programme called The KNTV Show around thirty years after Francis made his film. So how did it end up being name-checked in THE VAMPIRE HAPPENING?

vlcsnap-2014-01-03-13h15m41s206

(Belatedly, I worked out that the name used was “Slobovia,” an obsolete abusive nickname for any Eastern European backwater which I’d inadvertently come very close to using myself. Al Capp seems to have invented it in Li’l Abner.)

This intrigued me. It seemed very much as if the universe wanted me to see this film. So I watched it. It was terrible. There was a torture chamber and some sexy trees. Bad jokes. Awful acting. It ended, and I seemed to hear the universe chuckling.

vlcsnap-2014-01-03-13h02m40s100

Tree porn: this is genuinely presented as if it’s meant to be sexy. The “legs” part with a creak in the breeze…

Still, photographically it’s often splendid, as you’d expect from Francis — the location is magnificent and he captures it in rich, deep, dark hues. The happening itself is chaotic and ugly, though — a handheld riot of fake fangs and fake tits. The script is embarrassing, with Ferdy Mayne repeating his count bit from THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS but with horrible material — you feel bad for him. I can’t quite work out FF’s attitude to the bucketloads of nudity he’s required to show: either he had contempt for it and just ladled it on with a weary, “You want flesh? Here you go!” approach, or else like Ken Russell he was uncritically keen on the female form and so didn’t exercise any quality control. Quantity over quality. This works in THE DEVILS — goes towards realism — but seems defective in a brainless exploitation flick.

Still, the flopping, goose-bumped nudies cavorting through Francis’s drafty castle are some kind of antidote to the cascade or airbrushed centrefolds who tumble headlong through THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, seeming strangers to body hair and even pores. Even a shit film can induce a kind of nostalgia for when sex objects were human.

vlcsnap-2014-01-03-13h01m23s98