Archive for Jack the Ripper

Bats

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2013 by dcairns

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Our pal Marvelous Mary once spent an evening round out our place watching Jesus Franco’s SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY, and came away with a healthy respect for any filmmaker who could centre a movie around a Crocheted Shawl of Death. Francophiles will recall that star Soledad Miranda dons this garment each time she goes out to shag and kill. A keen and expert knitter, Mary was smitten.

So when Jesus died at Easter, Mary popped round for second helpings. We tried to watch THE GIRL FROM RIO aka THE MILLION EYES OF SUMURU but a technical glitch forced us to resort to DRACULA PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN, which meant we had to trade Shirley Eaton and George Sanders for Jason Reitman’s mom and a visibly ailing Dennis Price. Too bad.

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Genevieve Robert as the Gypsy Woman: arguably an advance on Maria Ouspenskaya. For the first time in my life I begin to think of Ivan Reitman as a man of taste.

I often feel that Jesus Franco’s name should be spelled with a comma after the first name and an exclamation mark after the second. This film inspired that feeling with renewed force. It doesn’t so much lack a plot as bodily reject one, like a transplant patient spitting his new heart across the room to watch it spatter in a pointillist nebula on the far wall. Scenes wend hopelessly on without purpose or meaning, the action attenuated and dubbed like porno without the sex.

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Frankenstein Must be Debilitated. Or, “Not the pole dance, Dennis!”

Whilst in Dublin, I received from friend Paul Duane a copy of Dennis Price, A Tribute, by Elliot J. Huntley, a comprehensive, warm, fannish but erudite profile of the Great Actor. Huntley is generous to Franco, seeing the late films as noble rather than embarrassing, proof of Price’s devotion to his craft and desire to put on a good show however trying the circumstances. And DRACULA PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN is trying indeed. But Franco appreciated Price’s talents even if he couldn’t show them to their best advantage — “He was subtle and intelligent and quick. I found him magnificent. You could shoot eighteen hours with him” (never mind the quality, feel the width!) —  and Price enjoyed Franco’s company.

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Back seat Dracula.

On the plus side, the music, by Bruno Nicolai and Daniel White, is excellent. There are strange moments that seem straight out of a spaghetti western, which suggest a more bracing genre mash-up that might have been. This enhanced by the score and the constant antarctic whiteout wind effects, and the eerily human cries of a peacock add some indefinable unease to this already potent punch. Fiona pointed out a shot of a ringing church bell which had been apparently speeded-up, resulting in a queer, herky-jerk effect reminiscent of NOSFERATU’s phantom coach.

Franco makes great use of locations, though he doesn’t attempt to disguise that they’re Spanish and Portuguese  rather than Transylvanian. (Nor does he, in JACK THE RIPPER, attempt to pretend his location is Victorian London: it’s Zurich. Honestly, the two things everybody knows about JTR is that he stalked the East End and was never caught. In the Franco film, Klaus Kinski stalks Zurich and GETS CAUGHT.)

Odd bit with a bat in a jar that’s being slowly filled with fake blood. The poor pipistrelle can’t decide whether to struggle for freedom as the unending trickle of raspberry juice spatters its shoulders, or to lap up the delicious fluid. It keeps switching from one course of action to the other. You can read its thoughts, poor thing: “Must get out — gotta think! — mmm, delicious! — maybe if I push upwards — how do they make this stuff? It’s so sweet!” (The scene is undoubtedly cruel, but it looks to me like Franco rescued the poor chiroptera as it went under for the third time, then probably ran it under the tap or something. So that’s OK, and we can get back to worrying about the cruelty being done to the human performers, though mercifully they aren’t tortured with much dialogue.)

The illusions in the film are all curiously naked: the rubber bats on wires are obviously rubber bats on wires, but then they always were, in Universal and Hammer films too. Franco also films a real bat in closeup while some offscreen bat-wrangler flaps its wings for it to pretend it’s in flight. That looks exactly like what it is too. The plastic skeletons are resplendently plastic, and just to be on the safe side Franco performs one of his trademark zooms into ECU on Howard Vernon’s joke-shop fangs, in case we had become concerned they might be genuine.

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The Frankenstein monster appears to have had his makeup applied with a magic marker. And he has a false rubber glue-on chin, like Kenny Everett’s Marcel Wave.

When the angry mob of villagers hove into view, their torches are not quite ablaze — merely smoldering. This may be the most touching low-budget compromise I’ve ever seen. “They provide no illumination, but the smoke trails — cough, cough — allow us to see where we’ve been.”

And then, all at once and for no reason, the wolfman shows up (played by “Brandy”!). He has a papier mache nose. A well-known side-effect of lycanthropy.

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Jesus, Franco!

Crippen Yarns

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2008 by dcairns

Lots of interesting thoughts spring to mind while watching Robert Lynn’s DR CRIPPEN, photographed by “Nick” Roeg, though not many of them have little to do with the film at hand –

1) Good to see Inspector Walter Dew in a movie! Not only did this real-life copper arrest Dr. C. (Donald Pleasance) for the murder of Mrs. C. (Coral Browne), but he was in reality one of the first officers on the scene when Mary Kelly, last of Jack the Ripper’s victims, was found dead in her flat. Dew actually seems to have slipped in the blood.

2) Striking how much of the Crippen story finds its way into REAR WINDOW. Like Crippen, murderer Lars Thorwald is a henpecked husband with a young mistress who murders and dismembered his wife and attempt to abscond with his mistress. The voyeurism angle in Hitchcock’s film is so strong that it actually helps for the murder to be simple, archetypal and rather familiar.

3) Poor Coral ends up buried beneath the fuel in the coal bunker, which reminded me that “Coral” is only one letter away from “coal”.

My friend Lawrie told me a Coral story. She was rehearsing a play, and was wearing a rather strange and voluminous fur hat. Distracted by this, the director asked her if she was quite comfortable in it. “No,” she replied, in that cultured and tremulous, yet formidable voice, “to be quite honest, I feel as if I’m looking out of a yak’s arsehole.”

4) The most interesting moment is when Browne suddenly becomes sympathetic, pleading for her husband’s affection. The film switches track and she reverts to full-on castrating nastiness soon after, but the change deepens everything, and stops the movie becoming a sort of misogynist tragedy of a downtrodden male.

5) “Why is (young, glamorous) Samantha Eggar attracted to (bald, eerie) Donald Pleasance?” I wondered, before a rather striking moment when he slides down out of shot while kissing her and the camera holds on her ecstatic face. A Nicholas Roeg moment? The suggestion seems to be that Donald has powers of eroticism unknown to the typical Edwardian male. As a doctor, his familiarity with ladyparts allows him to pleasure his mistress in a manner not normally possible in British historical drama…

6) Eggar looks funny in drag. Like a prehensile Edward Fox.

7) Beautiful shot:

Dr. Man and Mr. Woman

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2008 by dcairns

Adaptations of Jekyll and Hyde seem to fall into pairs…one good… one evil.

Comedy versions: THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (original) = good. THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (remake) = evil.

Eurotrash versions: DR JEKYLL AND THE WOMEN = good. DR JEKYLL AND THE WEREWOLF = evil.

Lost versions: DER JANUSKOPF (Murnau) = no doubt good. THE UGLY DUCKLING (Comfort) = probably fairly evil.

Transgender versions: DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE = good. DR JEKYLL AND MISS HYDE = pure evil.

Well, I say good, but the Hammer sex-change version is a mixture of crass errors and unexpected joys. The idea and title could strike you as cheesy, but then they have an amazing casting coup in Ralph Bates and Martine Beswick as the titular pair, their physiognomies lining up in a remarkably convincing way. “Sister Hyde” isn’t a nun, or a nurse, she’s literally alibied as Jekyll’s sister, and there’s a convincing family resemblance. Both actors seem to exude some kind of powerful pheromone that makes them appealing to gay audiences. It’s a real shame the film doesn’t find that much for Martine to do — she barely speaks, and though she clashed with Baker and Hammer films over their urge for more nudity, the film doesn’t even allow Mrs. Hyde to experience sex as a woman. They’re slightly afraid of the story’s possibilities.

Note: NEVER be afraid or ashamed of the story you’re telling! If you are, don’t tell it.

Remembering the good things, one always starts the film with high hopes, and it never fails to disappoint. The opening is truly spirited, with a foggy Victorian London set and a gory reenactment of a Jack the Ripper attack. Roy Ward Baker directs with, if not gusto, then a cheap, non-brand-name equivalent. He’s a bit zoom-happy, and I always feel he wasn’t quite happy in the horror genre that Hammer landed him in (although his QUATERMASS AND THE PIT is a favourite), but he does some interesting things with the camera and creates a bit of pace and atmos, helped immensely by Norman Warwick’s misty night cinematography, all shafts of light and lurking silhouettes. Production designer Robert Jones, following screenwriter Brian Clemens from TV’s The Avengers, designs the exteriors in monochrome, so that splashes of red photograph more brightly.

First transformation: Bates to Beswick in one shot: the camera wobbles around Bates as he crouches in an armchair before a full length mirror. With his head in shot the whole time, we end on his back, looking past Beswick reflected back at us in the glass. At first I thought this was a fake mirror, really a door leading into a duplicate set, as in the Mamoulian version — but no! Just a real mirror angles so as to reflect Beswick, sitting ALONGSIDE Bates, moving in synchronisation with her.

Beswick, and the shoulder of Bates.

Doing a transgender Jekyll isn’t enough for writer Clemens, he fuses Jekyll with Jack the Ripper (Jekyll needs to harvest fresh organs to supply him with female hormones for his experiments) and throws in Burke and Hare as well (in the wrong city, 60 years after Burke was executed, long after medical grave-robbing was effectively stamped out). This is either way too much of a good thing, or not quite enough. But I like the way Hare gets blinded by an angry mob and transforms into the blind “witness” from Fritz Lang’s M.

My problem is more with blending real and fake horror. Anyone who’s researched the Ripper case, as Fiona and I did for a screenplay entitled THE DAUGHTERS OF JOY (still available if there are any takers) will realise that the Whitechapel murders are not funny. Of course, there was very little Ripper lit when Clemens wrote his screenplay, so I guess the nostalgically safe horror of Madame Tussaud’s was easier to swallow. But within  just a few years, the idea of an anonymous madman murdering impoverished working girls would cease to be so distant. And I still don’t see what could really have struck anybody as funny about it.

Fun stuff –

Beswick whipping together a slinky red outfit from a pair of curtains in mere seconds, like a wicked Von Trapp kid. The buying an even slinkier red dress, which Fiona admired (though not as much as she covets Fenella Fielding’s outfit from CARRY ON SCREAMING). I thought the cossie was a bit fancy dress, like something for an Anne Summers costume party, but Fiona thinks that may be the point: “Remember, it was bought by a man.”

The not-quite gratuitous scene of Martine examining her new breasts before the mirror — it’s what would happen. That, or she might curl up in a ball bemoaning the loss of her wedding tackle. It’s followed by an even more surprisingly blatant shot: as she squeezes her bosom, she notices that the hand doing the squeezing is now male. A lot of the transitions are done this way, with Bates’ hands suddenly womaning out on him at odd moments.

The first transition also features a cutaway of one of those little weather houses, where the man disappears into one door and the woman emerges from another. A witty touch, in a film that more often resorts to enjoyably shit lines like “Burke by name and berk by nature!”

We were also amused by the “ironic” death scene, where Jekyll, fleeing over the rooftops, loses his grip on a drainpipe thanks to Hyde’s weak, womanish fingers, and falls to his/her death/s. And for the only time in a J&H film, Hyde does not revert to a peaceful Jekyll in death — instead we get a mutant hermaphrodite, face split between Bates and Beswick (by way of a crude makeup) like the Janus-face of Bergman’s PERSONA.

Two-Face.
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