Archive for horror

A Critical Mauling

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2008 by dcairns

This is Willy Rozier defending an actress’s honour by fighting a duel with the critic who gave her a bad review in his film, 56, RUE PIGALLE.

Flash-forward decades, and schlockmeister Uwe Boll challenges an array of critics to a boxing match, and proceeds to WHALE ON THEIR ASSES, delivering an animalistic, fist-based drubbing that knocks each and every one of them for six. It looks as painful as watching one of Boll’s movies.

Inbetweentimes, we have a notorious confrontation between director Ken Russell and Evening Standard critic Alexander Walker, on live T.V. (the clip appears not to have been preserved). Walker, slamming Russell’s THE DEVILS, had listed all the violent and obscene moments in the film, charging “we see Oliver Reed’s testicles crushed.” “That must have been wishful thinking on his part,” says Russell, “because they certainly weren’t.”


Viewing the film attentively, it is clear what actually goes down: Reed has his legs placed between slats and crushed by Michael Gothard, who drives wedges in between the slats with a big hammer. I’m sure Walker would have found that pretty offensive too, but it IS based on solid historical fact, and we never see the hammer connect. Also, Aldous Huxley’s description of the scene in his source book, The Devils of Loudun, is explicit, matter-of-fact, and just as appalling. The censor had actually made Russell cut the hammer blows down to ONE blow, then said, “Oh no, that makes it WORSE,” and made him put some back.

Oliver red

Russell raised the inaccuracy of the review in the television discussion, but Walker didn’t acknowledge any error. Understandably frustrated, Mad Ken proceeded to swear violently and strike Walker over the head with a rolled-up copy of his own review. “Should have had an iron bar inside it, but I didn’t have one to hand.”

Alexander Walker, curiously smackable

It’s pretty clear that the critics have invective sewn up. Artists can’t respond to criticism verbally without looking like buffoons. They stifle their hurt and grow ulcers. When James Cameron suggested that critic Kenneth Turan should be fired for not liking TITANIC — since this proved Turan was out of step with public opinion — he just looked like an arse.

But violence ALWAYS works! If Cameron had struck Turan in the face with a pie, like the Belgian “pastry terrorists” who creamed Godard and Bill Gates some years ago, a lot more people would have sympathised (though we knew in our hearts even then that TITANIC was basically manipulative piffle). This kind of thing satisfies our inner sensation-seeker, and makes us feel that a worm has turned, an underdog has had their day. A filmmaker writing to the papers feels like a worrying reversal of the natural order. A filmmaker throwing a ridiculous strop and shoving a dignified older gentleman into a fountain just seems right and proper.* Tony Richardson, once a critic himself, said that his former colleagues in that profession were “acidulated intellectual eunuchs hugging their prejudices like feather boas,” and certainly in these bracing physical encounters it’s the critics who tend to come out of it worst.

But it can’t be right, all this FIGHTING. Isn’t there an alternative?

The movie THEATRE OF BLOOD suggests one possibility. It’s a whimsical fantasy in which a ham actor (Vincent Price, arguably typecast) murders his way through the critics’ circle, appropriating his choice of weapons and methodology from the plays of Wm. Shakespeare. Much better to revel in IMAGINARY violence, which is, after all, what most filmmakers are used to doing. When director Quentin Tarantino and NATURAL BORN KILLERS producer Don Murphy got into a fight in a Hollywood restaurant, both claimed to have given the other a thorough thrashing, but a waiter who witnessed the scuffle observed, “It was obvious neither of these guys knew how to fight.” One pictures a hysterical BRIDGET JONES-style slappy fight, unbecoming of such maestros of cinematic mayhem.

THEATRE OF BLOOD upset me as a kid, when I saw it one Hogmanay night. It was a shock to see sitcom star Arthur Lowe getting his head sawn off in bed (and being murdered IN BED was particularly upsetting to a child). I’m still not even sure which Shakespeare play that was meant to be. A loose reading of Macbeth? Robert Morley being force-fed his own poodles in a pie, a reworking of Titus Andronicus, put one acquaintance off chicken pie for life. The appalling sadism savagery was inexplicable to a child, even one such as I who had been weaned on a diet of Hammer horror. Only with an adult’s experienced eye can we appreciate the satisfaction of slaying critics. It then becomes clear how the film was able to attract such an all-star cast: great names of British film, theatre and television were queuing up to be slaughtered wearing cravats: Jack Hawkins, Michael Hordern, Dennis Price, Harry Andrews, Robert Coote, with Diana Dors and Coral Browne providing female victims (Price seems to particularly relish electrcuting his real-life wife).

cook until Browne

As someone who both sits in the director’s chair, when asked, and sits in judgement, in this blog, I have divided loyalties on this issue, and naturally I don’t want to see anybody get hurt. I would be doubly at risk. So the idea of slaughtering critics through the medium of film strikes me as the most civilized and balanced option. Reviewers can continue to vivisect film-makers on the page, as long as the movie people can retaliate by hacking up the hacks on the screen. The public, who have always loved a Roman circus, are likely to be the winners.

*Nobody has actually done this to a critic yet but I’m hoping for a copycat crime to boost my circulation.


Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2008 by dcairns

 British teeth

James Bernard’s theme music tends to play out the title as if it were a song lyric. So the score for DRACULA goes “Dra-cu-la!” and the score for TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA goes “Taste – the – Blood – of  – Dra-cu-la!” etc. And that’s just fine with me.

Christopher Lee’s entrance as the Count is the best ever. I do like the Lugosi (the first half of that movie is really good, creepy and dreamlike and nonsensically populated with armadillos and a tiny coffin with a bug in it and MAN!) and the Spanish language version filmed at night while they were shooting Bela by day has a great shot that swoops up the stairs to meet the vamp coming down, and Gary Oldman in the Coppola version looks like Glenn Close in DANGEROUS LIAISONS and Barbra Streisand in FUNNY LADY at the same time and of course the Nosferatus are brilliant BUT!!!

I'll build a stairway to paradise...

Chris Lee’s entrance is tops and here’s why: ‘There’s nothing like the introduction of Dracula in that picture, in which Christopher Lee just walked down the stairs, sort of bounced down, and said “Hello, I’m Dracula.” Having been reared on Bela Lugosi, with whom you knew you were in trouble, Lee just seemed like a very sensible, sophisticated gentleman.’ — Martin Scorsese.

Dude descending a staircase


Lee is really scary here as he advances into huge close-up with a fairly wide-angle lens, fairly low: the shot is telling us to run for cover but there’s nothing in the performance to clue in the other guy in the scene, so for once the poignancy works without Harker looking like an idiot.

Scorsese’s other remarks are fun. On CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN: ‘The audience loved it, and there was a graphic quality to it that was… totally uncalled for! And was extremely endearing to us at about the age of fifteen.’

And more on Lee: ‘…he was a very likeable Dracula — we enjoyed his company, we could imagine socializing with him. We also liked Peter Cushing a great deal as Van Helsing, because he had such insight, and he was very precise in his movements within the frame.’

Miss Stake

I kind of wonder if Scorsese’s teenage friends all admired the precision of Cushing’s movements… but Cushing certainly moves well, and often. An admirer of Laurence Olivier, he brings a comparable dashing physical gusto to his work, but as Scorsese observes, he’s more camera-wise.

The third horror star in this film is often overlooked: Michael Gough. His work in later horror films has attracted favourable attention, and Tim Burton made good use of him in his BATMEN and SLEEP HOLLOW films, carrying on where Vincent Price left off in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, but it seems almost to be forgotten that he’s even in DRACULA.

Everyone who ever works with Gough remarks on how extremely clever he is, and so, with all respect to director Terence Fisher and writer Jimmy Sangster*, I tend to attribute this next bit of clever business to Gough:

Not tonight dear I have a headache

Van Helsing brands Gough’s sweetheart on the brow with a crucifix, and as she screams, Gough clutches his own temples in sudden sympathetic pain.

A moment later, Cushing’s V-H dispatches the vampire gal with a businesslike stake to the heart, and Gough pulls the same stunt a second time, this time clutching his ticker.


Fine fine work from the Goughster.

I Made This!

*Sangster is amusingly modest about his writing abilities, but has written some fine films, a favourite of mine being THE NANNY. But at times he does live up to his reputation for rubbishness: his autobiography actually ends with the line “I hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing it.” On CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Lee was sulking about not having any lines, and Cushing told him “Think yourself lucky, have you READ the script?”

Readers’ Wives of Dracula

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2007 by dcairns

Landscape in the Mist.

This is basically me experimenting with Photobucket and frame grabs!

Shadows and Fog.

These images are from Jose Larraz’s VAMPYRES. I always found the horrible sexy vampires in it a bit too “Penthouse Pets” to be really terrifying, but the autumnal English countryside shots, photographed by the distinguished Harry Waxman (BRIGHTON ROCK, ENDLESS NIGHT) are stunning, and juxtapose effectively with the scenes of blood-smeared naked chicks getting it on, 70s-style (unconvincing softcore frottage).

Two Ladies.

The misty 70s vibe makes me think of another film from this time and place:

Stoner Henge.

Which leads me irresistibly to this defining image of the times:

Roger Vadim.