Archive for John Elder

Quote of the Day: Werewolf By Night

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2008 by dcairns

This is from Guy Endore’s The Werewolf of Paris, an epic and perverse gothic novel. Aymar has come to Paris in search of his nephew, Bertrand, an uncontrollable werewolf, whom he plans to stop at all costs. But Aymar gets caught up in the Paris Commune and its brutal suppression:

“The Commune shot fifty-seven from the prison of La Roquette. Versailles retaliated with nineteen hundred. To that comparison add this one: The whole famous Reign of Terror in fifteen months guillotined 2,596 aristos. The Versaillists executed 20,000 commoners before their firing squads in one week. Do these figures represent the comparative efficiency of guillotine and modern rifle, or the comparative cruelty of upper and lower class mobs?

“Bertrand, it now seemed to Aymar, was but a mild case. What was a werewolf who had killed a couple of prostitutes, who had dug up a few corpses, compared with these bands of tigers slashing at each other with daily increasing ferocity? ‘And there’ll be worse,’ he said, and again he had that marvelous rising of the heart. Instead of thousands, future ages will kill millions. It will go on, the figures will rise and the process will accelerate! Hurrah for the race of werewolves!”

~ Guy Endore, 1934.

Rather a terrific piece of pulp nastiness, with weird philosophical undertones. I’d compare it to Matthew Lewis’ anti-clerical masterpiece The Monk. Endore wants to have his cake and eat it, though, and his defence of witch-burning is frankly offensive, although it’s hard to know how seriously he means it.

Endore wrote in Hollywood, contributing to Tod Browning’s THE DEVIL DOLL and MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, Karl Freund’s MAD LOVE, and the goofy Karloff-Lugosi THE RAVEN, which I wrote about here. And then, when he was still alive in 1961, Hammer films used his werewolf classic (which predates Henry Hull in WEREWOLF OF LONDON, Lon Chaney Jnr in THE WOLFMAN, and the Holocaust) as the basis for Terence Fisher’s CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, scripted by John Elder, perhaps Britain’s worst screenwriter
Wait, isn’t that his mother? Who dies in childbirth? Publicity stills can be SO IMAGINATIVE.
The film was initiated to make use of Spanish sets built for an Inquisition romp that had been nixed by the censor. Instead of doing the logical thing and turning to The Monk (too anti-Catholic), Elder took Endore’s story and transposed it from the historical background which is so central to it. While he could certainly have found equally bloody events in Spanish history, I guess he was forbidden to do so. But I can’t forgive the systematic ripping out of all of Endore’s best conceits. The author is purposely ambiguous right to the end about Bertrand’s lycanthropy. Does he really transform into a wolf, or only imagine it due to his uncontrollable cannibalistic impulses? And while Endore starts with a horrific account of a man entombed alive in an oubliette, Elder has his equivalent character locked in a jail, where he still has sympathetic human contact, yet somehow loses the power of speech. The chap goes mad and rapes an INSANELY busty wench and as a result, Oliver Reed is born with werewolfism. I always found that a pathetically stupid idea, and it’s a gross distortion of the book.
Even a slightly silly novel like Werewolf of Paris has a certain dignity in its perversity, and it deserves a more sympathetic adaptation. It’s not great literature or anything, but there are enough ideas in it for ten movies — all of them better than CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF.
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Frankenstein Must Be a Freud

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2008 by dcairns

Headshrinker.

Well, he describes himself as an expert in psychiatry at one point in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN…

“I always regarded ‘Baron Frankenstein’ as a forerunner to Dr. Christian Barnard, the South African surgeon who was the first man to transplant the human heart, which he did in 1967…” ~ Peter Cushing.

That same year, as I was working up to getting born, Cushing returned to the role of Dr. F in the third canonical Terence Fisher-Peter Cushing-Hammer-Frankenstein, which Fiona and I looked at again as part of our week-long Frankathon

Strange film! After the extremely neat dovetailing of the first two films in the series, this delivers a bit of a jolt, continuity-wise. After last seeing Frankenstein ensconsed in a thriving Harley Street practice and a new, but identical body, it’s kind of a shock to see him experimenting with soul-catching force fields in Europe, his hands mysteriously mutilated… it would seem the fabled Frankenstein sequence is not as coherent as advertised — unless you do what we’re doing, and swap this film with MUST BE DESTROYED. That explains the Baron’s burned hands, at least.

But to briefly consider this film in the light of the year it was made:

Almost a decade had passed since director Terence Fisher’s last visit to the lab, and in the interim screenwriter John Elder had given us EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN for director Freddie Francis. Francis was a very competent director who was sometimes actually inspired (he was a seriously brilliant cameraman, whose work on THE INNOCENTS and THE ELEPHANT MAN should be enough to earn him immortality, without the need for Frankenstein’s soul-catcher) but he couldn’t do much with Elder’s wandering, unstructured script. Jimmy Sangster might cheerfully own up to being not the world’s best screenwriter, but he’s a veritable Joe Mankiewicz compared to Hinds.

Alas, Hinds does duty as writer on this one as well, and having, in EVIL, sabotaged the careful continuity of Sangster’s work, here he procedes to ride roughshod over his OWN continuity. One of the weird things about EVIL is the way it’s a sequel that contains its own original. This also happens in EVIL DEAD II, which begins by reprising the first film. Elder fits his remake of CURSE into an insanely prolonged flashback, reminding us of all the stuff that should be pretty obvious from the framing story — like, how Frankenstein is this guy who’s made a monster… In this alternative universe, the Baron’s first monster WASN’T destroyed in an acid bath, but frozen, to be revived later on, in this movie…

I’m going to stop writing about EVIL OF now because it makes my head hurt (oh, for a sharp bone saw and some forceps). On to FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN, which has the benefit of a groovy title (although I’d prefer it to go all out and begin with “…AND”) and a slightly less shaky narrative. Elder’s biggest mistakes this time are, in order of egregiousness:

1) Ignoring both Sangster’s and his own continuity. Not only has Frankenstein aquired a new lab and assistant (an uncharacteristically muted Thorley Walters as a drunken old village doctor) but a new speciality, physics. He spends the film’s first half wasting our time with his force field, which may be novel but rather lacks the gory frissons of his early surgical experiments. 

2) Beginning far too early, a recurring Hammer problem (I always cite CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT as the daftest, since it begins, for no reason, with the protagonists’ birth). This one starts off in a supporting characters’ childhood, in what seems to be a borrowing from Frank Borzage’s sublime MOONRISE: our loveable stooge Hans (there’s ALWAYS a character called Hans, and usually a Karl and a Kleve, for some reason), having witnessed his father’s execution on the guillotine, feels predestined for the same fate.

3) Metaphysical crimes. Suddenly Cushing’s Baron is obsessed with THE SOUL, which never interested him before. The whole plot could have been made to work with brain transplants, which would have taken less time to set up and would have been consistent with the Baron’s M.O. as established in three previous films. The film’s soul transplant never makes much sense, but it IS intriguing.

A progressive touch: a disabled, unmarried character with a sex life.

4) Crude characterisation. Three Vicious Local Toffs are set up early on, and their characters fail to develop beyond being V.L.T.s for the whole running time. During the first forty mins they endlessly repeat their basic cycle of nasty behaviours, taking forever to actually set the plot in motion. Once they do, Hans is executed for a murder they committed, his disabled girlfriend drowns herself (oh, what hours of misery Lars Von Trier could make of this!) and “Baron Frankenthing” as a local yokel calls him, can finally do something, implanting the captured soul of Hans in the repaired body of his beloved, Krista.

5) For some reason, this causes her to go blond.

Frankenstein’s personality is a little different here, but I’m not going to call that a fault, just a difference. As in EVIL, there’s more of a sense of Dr. F as a Great Man Surrounded By Fools, persecuted for his genius by an uncaring world. There are certainly hints of the old callous bastard Sangster created and Cushing brought to unapologetic life, but mostly this is a reformed Frankenstein who generally means well. He’s a little warmer, more concerned with justice, and altogether less rapey than the Baron seen in MUST BE DESTROYED. Maybe his experience almost being roasted alive by Freddie Jones has reformed him somewhat.

When Dr. F testifies as a character witness for his unjustly accused assistant (Cushing idles in the witness box, flicking through the bible he’s sworn on — “Looking for loopholes,” Fiona suggests) he makes a poor job of it, but one feels he meant well. If Sangster were writing this, he’d have Cushing deliberately condemn Hans, just so he could get his body (and soul) to experiment on. Which would have given Cushing a lot more to bite into, actually.

Elder redeems himself with Cushing’s zestful seizing of the opportunity to abduct the executed man’s soul. He’s his old cold-blooded self again, arguing against asking his subject’s permission: “He might refuse.”

Capturing the human soul with a satellite dish and a carrot.

The mystery and majesty of the human soul — stripped bare! And if that doesn’t suit you, we have Susan Denberg.

Then we get a very odd remake of MY FAIR LADY/PYGMALION, with Cushing and Walters making a lady out of, well, in this case, a cadaver, and granting it a male soul. Soon they have her making breakfast for them. Krista is played in both disfigured and reanimated versions by starlet Susan Denberg, a slightly controversial figure. Here’s what the IMDb has to say:

Mini Biography

After becoming immersed in the 60s high life of drugs and sex, Denberg left show business and returned to Austria. News interviews at the time show a depressed Denberg in the company of her mother, at home in Klagenfurt. These news items, repeated in fan periodicals for years, gave the impression Denberg was suicidal or had already died. Actually, she is still alive.

Spouse: Tony Scotti (? – 1968) (her death)

So, according to this, she died in 1968 but is still alive. Shades of her character in this film.

(Tony Scotti, incidentally, had his moment of fame in VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, playing a character with a truly beyond-fabulous name: Tony Polar. I propose a new sequel, TONY POLAR MEETS FRANKENSTEIN. The Baron, rendered immortal by injections of spinal fluid, has set up shop as a plastic surgeon in Vegas, where a reclusive Howard Hughes type is sponsoring him to create the Perfect Woman from murdered showgirls. Only Tony Polar can stop him!)

PYGMALION soon collides with THE BRIDE WORE BLACK as Denberg, urged on by her lover’s transplanted soul (?), begins wiping out the V.L.T.’s who caused his death. Confusingly, the soul’s urgings seems to emanate from his severed head, even though it’s supposed to be inside HER, according to the Baron. Logic was never Elder’s strong suit. What follows should be immensely satisfying, as the horrible V.L.T.s (who include Derek Fowlds of TV sitcom Yes, Minister) are bloodily murdered, but it’s somehow all a little underdone. Frankenstein becomes the Man Who Knew And Tried To Warn Them, kept under house arrest by the authorities until it’s too late. Leaving Thorley Walters to ineffectually drop out of the narrative, Cushing arrives at the scene of Denberg’s last murder too late to do anything but witness her suicide.

In a welcome nod to NIGHT MUST FALL, she’s been trotting around with Hans’ head in a hatbox. Now she drowns herself, AGAIN. As usual, she transforms into a burly, gallumphing stuntman.

The film has more ideas than REVENGE, to be fair to it, but many of them are not the kind of ideas that can be usefully exploited for horror purposes. The business with trapping the soul is echoed in a howlingly wonderful ’70s weirdfest  called THE ASPHYX, with the Roberts Stephens and Newton Powell attempting to trap the “death force” in a similar fashion, and similarly, that film fails to actually behave like a horror film (but it does contain my favourite ever mind-boggling line, yelled by Stephens in a crescendo of passion: “Was the smudge trying to warn Clive of danger?”).

So, once again, Baron Frankenstein lives to operate again (although throughout this film he requires the buffoonish Walters’ assistance, since his hands are maimed — when did this happen?). I think it might have been nicer if Hammer had gone to the trouble of killing him off each time, as they did in CURSE, and then beginning the next film by explaining how he escaped death. REVENGE breaks with this pattern by showing Cushing die AND be resurrected at the end, which is OK too. But having the Baron just sort of wander off, as he does here, is a little less than awesome.