Archive for Jennifer Jayne

Dracula Schmacula

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2012 by dcairns

SON OF DRACULA, “starring” Harry Nilsson, “directed” by Freddie Francis and “produced” by Ringo Starr, seems to have been brought into being solely to disabuse me, decades after its creation, of several of my most long-cherished beliefs. These are ~

(1) The 1970s were cool (THE GODFATHER and PULP can be seen advertised in the background of a couple of shots, but they can’t compete with the awful guff going on in the foreground).

(2) The presence of Dennis Price in a vampire film is always a good sign (VAMPYROS LESBOS).

(3) Ringo Starr is a fundamentally well-meaning man who wants me to have a good time (HELP!, CANDY).

(4) Rock musicals with Frankenstein elements are the key to human happiness  (ROCKY HORROR, LISZTOMANIA)

(5) Keith Moon was exclusively in very great films (TOMMY, SEXTETTE)

(6) T Rex had alchemical powers which transmuted everything they touched into gold.

(7) Jenny Runacre can make anything cool (THE FINAL PROGRAMME).

(8) Dracula films with motorbikes are cool (THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA).

(9) Freddie Jones is the kind of guy you can depend on to learn his lines.

(10)  Shakira Caine was only ever in THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING and never made any films where she turned into a housecat.

All of these self-evident truths, previously held to be inviolate, are thrown into question by this shambling travesty — how shall I go on in a world where NOTHING is certain?

Harry Nilsson is a new kind of Dracula — quiet, authoritative, ginger. He plays the whole thing straight, which might have worked if everybody had gone along with it. After all, the script, by actress Jennifer Jayne working under a pseudonym (wisely), doesn’t actually provide any gags — apart from Dracula Jnr being called Count Down, for no reason. Ringo, as Merlin (what’s Merlin doing in this???), is Ringo. The rest of the rock stars just play music, which is a bit of a waste. The way to redeem this farrago would have been to play it absolutely straight, cutting all the “comedy” which would have taken about three minutes of script revision, and casting inappropriate musicians in all roles. THEN it might have been funny. Freddie Jones as Baron Frankenstein tries, apart from the aforementioned difficulty with the lines (which are often unspeakable sci-fi gibberish, to be fair), but think what Keith Moon could have done! Seized the role by the throat and worried it to death, I should think. And Dennis Price as Van Helsing? Sure, he seems to have sobered up for the day’s work, and Francis shoots him as if he was actually there, in the scene with the other players, which must have been a bewildering change for Price, who was usually filmed to  look as much like stock footage as possible (see HORROR HOSPITAL if you don’t believe me), but this has the effect of depriving Peter Frampton of the opportunity to wear a goatee and operate lab equipment. It’s a terrible injustice.

I was slightly surprised that this seriously obscure film, lost in the mists of time and hard drugs, features songs I recognized — that echoing yelling number (Jump into the Fire) that plays during Ray Liotta’s last day as a goodfella in GOODFELLAS, and this

Extra points for recognizing the space footage swiped from A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH. At least Freddie Francis worked on AMOLAD. Did David Niven feel raped? Probably not — he was too busy making VAMPIRA.

Francis apparently had a horrible time on this film — not the world’s greatest director (but one of the greatest cinematographers, as THE INNOCENTS and THE ELEPHANT MAN testify), he found himself employed on a rock folly tax dodge, where the professionalism which was his main attribute as director was not respected or required. He says it led him to give up directing, although one notes that he had not hit bottom yet — he made CRAZE the same year, with Satanist Jack Palance trolling for sacrificial victims in the Raymond Revuebar. The following year’s THE GHOUL and LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF are shoddy, but mark a slight step up.

The Revuebar is glimpsed here too, in a Swinging London travelogue which actually contains the film’s only moments of visual felicity — a girl walks past and a neon light flicks on offscreen just as she catches the vampire’s eye, causing her to flare red — and the Coke sign’s red wave lights up from top to bottom EXACTLY like a pool of blood flowing downhill.

One odd thing among many — SON OF DRACULA is actually set in the future. An opening title gives the date of Dracula’s staking as “the 1880s” — which is strangely vague, as if the writer is unsure of her facts — and Count Down’s coronation, which takes up most of the plot, is set “a hundred years later” — also, he gets from Transylvania to London via the Channel Tunnel, which did not yet exist in 1974 (it’s represented by an underground car park — this is, after all, a film which boasts of being made “entirely on location”). Yet despite all this, Piccadilly Circus still boasts ads for THE GODFATHER.

Francis would show this blithe disregard for setting again in THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS, Dylan Thomas’ Burke and Hare script, belatedly filmed in 1985. Relocating the story to London would have been a perfectly reasonable action, since the characters are all re-named anyway, but Francis inexplicably keeps the Edinburgh locale (with a single location shot of Arthur’s Seat) but has everybody talk in cockney accents. I can understand him not wanting to give himself a migraine by reading the SON OF DRACULA script too closely, but when Dylan Thomas is involved, I think a little more care would be welcome.

I am indebted to Shadowplay informant Danny Carr for reminding me that S.O.D. (“an Apple Production”) existed, thus prompting me to obtain a copy. Remind me to stab him in the forehead next time I see him.

Cracking Cheese

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2008 by dcairns

No, not the Fritz Lang movie.

This CLASH BY NIGHT is a British “B” picture from 1964. And by “B” I really mean “W”, or possibly “Y”.

I didn’t get much out of it except enjoying greatly the above shot, from right at the beginning. The guy in the foreground has just lost a heap of money on a dog race. The guy on the right is Stanley Meadows, playing a gangster here just as he did in Cammell and Roeg’s seminal PERFORMANCE six years later. And he’s equally impressive here — a cool, crisp, naturally frightening actor who was terribly underused by British cinema. Plus he looks great in motorcycle goggles (his cunning disguise).

And I loved this shot — Peter Sallis (Wallace from WALLACE AND GROMIT) in the role of halfwitted lunatic “Victor Lush”, threatens everybody with a lit match in a paraffin-soaked barn.

That’s basically the plot — a coach full of of prisoners and their guards are imprisoned in said barn while a gang boss makes his getaway. Since all the jailbirds are required to do is sit put until dawn, there’s not much suspense – -except that it’s Guy Fawkes’ Night and fireworks are flying hither and yon.

The transporter full of hardened stereotypes put me in mind of CON AIR, and made me wonder if there’s another variation to be pulled on this appealing set-up. Apart from that, the film boasts an appearance by what appears to be future cheesemeister Ray Austen (VIRGIN WITCH) as the world’s most inept sexual predator. “My husband will be home shortly,” says Jennifer Jayne, whereupon he rips her blouse and is promptly socked to death by the returning hubby. Which is all just by way of illustrating that our appallingly stiff middle-class hero is AN INNOCENT MAN UNJUSTLY CONVICTED. Which turns out to have no bearing on anything, really.

CLASH BY NIGHT has an ability to just barely hold the attention by delivering unnecessary flashbacks, improbable coincidences, pathetic cop-outs and other narrative blunders at a rapid-fire pace. If it were any better it wouldn’t really be any fun. Sadly, the only major character who DOESN’T get a flashback is the religious zealot who’s been arrested for “trying to take brotherly love a bit too far.” Even in the wake of VICTIM (1961) this film didn’t feel able to go any deeper into THAT. Given the portrayal of Sallis’ character – is he insane? Is he mentally handicapped? Do they know there’s a difference? – it’s unlikely the results would have been terribly illuminating.

Oh, and there’s some quite fun X-rated cursing, or “pervasive language” as the MPAA would say. The actors can barely conceal their glee at being allowed to say big grown-up words like “bastard”. My Dad once told me that he and his friends used to read Mickey Spillane “for the swearing”, so they’d have dug this.

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