Archive for John Gilling


Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2017 by dcairns

The only really alarming thing for us in Mindhunter, David Fincher’s new FBI/serial killer series, were the SUDDEN BIG FONT moments where the show would abruptly scream at you about where the current sequence was set. Given that the show is otherwise so cool and clinical, this hysteria seemed slightly misplaced, though I guess it did help stamp a visual identity on a show that was otherwise pretty simple and understated in its visual approach. (We don’t see murders, or even fresh crime scenes — just crime scene pics, and lots and lots of unpleasant graphic talk — and I contest the show would have been even more effective without the photos, whose nasty content is always described anyway.) And I guess it’s good they didn’t repeat the typewriter font from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS that got transposed directly into The X-Files. But if everything remains calm and collected as a hulking murderer discusses how to have sex with a severed head, why should we be so excited to learn that the next bit of procedural is going to occur in, say, Denton, Ohio?

THE REPTILE, curiously enough, a Hammer film from John Gilling played on the same sets as his PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, begins with a pre-credits teaser and then a giant yellow title is suddenly slapped into our astonished faces by a direct cut. Again, this was the only scary bit in the film. A bit like GK Cheserton’s demi-god/new messiah in his short story How I Found the Superman, the monster is killed at the end when somebody lets a draught in. Considering the house is on fire at the time, such a slight breeze proving fatal suggests a monster of unusually delicate constitution.

Still, good to see Michael Ripper get such a prominent role and even get to deliver the death-blow/window opening. And very nice physical work from Jacqueline Pearce, who should have become a massive star, as the scaly lady.

Cornish, pasty

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2017 by dcairns

“Doesn’t this one have some kind of political subtext?” asked Fiona as I prompted a viewing of PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, Hammer’s sole walking-dead opus. And it sort of does. It might be due for a revival, actually, since Trump is supposedly bringing coal back.

I couldn’t remember if I’d seen this before. And possibly a year from now I won’t remember having seen it. But it’s not devoid of interest, the points of interest just didn’t come thick and fast enough to entirely satisfy.

I’d read about the film in the Gifford and had a strong memory of the image of a zombie, face contorted in a horrible mask-like grin, holding an unconscious — in fact, as I discovered, DEAD — girl. I hadn’t realized that the girl was the striking Jacqueline Pearce or that the zom was Ben Aris, best known as a comedy actor. He executes one of the great pratfalls of all time in ROYAL FLASH, having been hit with a champagne bottle at a locomotive christening ceremony. Of course, he was tall, which is why he was chosen here. Hammer nearly cast loveable CARRY ON film dope Bernard Bresslaw as the creature in CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, you know. Had they done so, and then gone on to cast him as Dracula, probably none of us would be here today.

I also remembered reading Leslie Halliwell’s snarky remark, in an otherwise fairly positive review — why doesn’t the Cornish tin mine owner simply employ normal workers instead of reanimating the dead? Well, obviously a zombie labour force would have advantages, not needing food or rest, and being incapable of independent action and thence, industrial action. And in any case, the film tells us that the history of fatal accidents at the mine is what put off the living employees. Using animate corpses is Health & Safety Gone Mad!

As ever in Hammer, the unsympathetic portrait of the landed gentry is balanced by an unappealing depiction of the lumpenproletariat, with surly local yokels and a stupid, scowling policeman played by the inescapable Michael Ripper.

The B-list cast is helpful in some ways — André Morrell, a fine Dr. Watson, is here cast as staunch Dr. Forbes — the good guys, of course, are solidly middle-class. And the fact that he’s not Peter Cushing allows us to forget, some of the time, that he’s playing an absolute Peter Cushing role. John Carson, doing his very best James Mason voice, is a fair but un-sexy substitute for either Christopher Lee or, at a push, Charles Gray. When the good doctor starts talking about waiting for a recently deceased female to reanimate, we know we’re in terribly familiar terrain.

Famously, director John Gilling anticipates a lot of Romeroesque imagery and action with a dream sequence in which he goes hand-held and deutsch-tilted as the recently deceased haul themselves from their graves and surround the hero in billows of dry ice fog. It gives the film a boost, and makes you wish they had gone for more ad hoc cinematography more of the time, though a pursuit sequence with fox-hunters chasing a girl — borrowed from HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES — also benefits from a lot of panting wobble in the camera department. Throw in some full-blooded crash zooms and you have something a bit more modish in technique that Terence Fisher’s classical approach.

The lighting only gets seriously stylish in the mine interior, where the sulphurous coloured gels make for an almost Bavaesque look, and Gilling gets some nice compositions by posing some of his undead workmen close to the lens, staring sightlessly past us.

Miniature coffins are always creepy, but sadly the plasticine and ketchup approach to voodoo dolls is disappointing, and the female dolls all have big boobs, which looks silly.

Framegrabbing the climax, where the mouldy miners catch fire, we can see the flame-retardant masks worn by the stunt artists, and very scary they are too. Only Aris’s zombie makeup is very effective — the other stiffs, with their pancake pallor, seem slapdash — so the masks, which looks a lot like actual mummified bodies, could have been a good way to go. They also remind me of this mask, worn by the Reverend Alexander Peden when he was a fugitive in Scotland in the 17th century. The original Leatherface!

Halloween soon. Try making one of these. Your neighbours will shit themselves.

The film of the anecdote of the rhapsody of the vision

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on March 14, 2016 by dcairns


I wouldn’t recommend HOUSE OF DARKNESS, exactly, unless you’re a Laurence Harvey completist, and if you are, please report to the nearest cryptozoologist who will be supremely pleased to hear from a species more mythic than the yeti or goatsucker. But having said all that, or imaging that I have (how would I know?), I am mildly pleased to observe that our old friend John Gilling is the scenarist, and thus the man responsible for an unusual narrative device.

We open with George Melachrino, bandleader, conducting his latest tune for the movie cameras. While the next set-up is prepared, he sits down with a film director chap and begins to tell the tale of how the melody came to him. Cue flashback — on holiday in darkest Dorset, George visits a haunted house where the locals claim ghostly tunes can be heard. George hears the phantom music, and presumably straight-up plagiarises it for his hit rhapsody (?), but more than that, he experiences a kind of vision or flashback — the movie isn’t too clear about exactly how the following tale is experienced by him, but it’s experienced by us as a flashback within a flackback, and as a pretty dull yarn from start to finish. But, you know, credit is due for an unusual narrative approach.


Seems to me the Germans must have a word for this kind of face.

Once we get into the Laurence Harvey part of the film, that novelty wears off FAST, and we’re stuck with L.H. in his introductory role (they even spelled his name wrong), speaking in a bizarre, mincing manner suggestive of but never quite resolving into a foreign accent — Harvey had worked hard to eliminate any trace of his Lithuanian and South African origins, but at this point he has not yet replaced his native tones with authentic human speech, and so it’s like a voice from which authenticity has been removed leaving only a vacuum waiting for some kind of artifice to be shoveled in.

The thing is a kind of gothic noir with spiritualist leanings, but the truly uncanny thing is Laurence’s hair, which may not have reached its mature volume, but already towers from the zenith of his brow like a precipice. At moments of high emotion the overhang loses all coherence, feathering out vastly until it assumes the form of an exaggerated cap brim. And all the while little Laurence is there, acting, acting, acting, from under it.


Eventually, like even the most tedious nightmare, the story ends, and we go back to the world of Melachrino, who rises to the podium again and lets rhip with his rhapsody. I’m no expert in the oeuvre of Mr. Melachrino. I’m sure this is a very nice rhapsody. But no mere melody could encapsulate that quiff.