31 Days of Halloween- Day 16- Lonely Water aka The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water (1973)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 16- Lonely Water aka The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water (1973)

One of the fantastic things about growing up as a child of the ’70s and 80’s and being a horror fan were the Public Information Films that were shown at random times both day and night on British TV. These could convey any burning issue from the dangers of abandoned old refrigerators on rubbish tips through to the importance of not using different kinds of tyres on your car.

Some could be quite humorous in tone. But some were the stuff of nightmares. They set out to scare the living bejesus out of you. And by Christ, they worked. Everything from the dangers of Rabies, how you could be maimed if you misuse fireworks and, as you will see, what can happen to the show-off children who play near water.

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Lonely Water aka The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water was made in 1973 and directed by Jeff Grant. The jewel in its crown was that Donald Pleasance was used to voice the ghostly monk who appears when a child is about to come a cropper near a river or stream.

The eagle-eyed will also see Terry Sue Patt aka Benny Green from Grange Hill as one of the kids.

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This Public Information Film scared a whole generation from even thinking of going near their local river. This would also have been the generation who would later see Jaws either at the cinema (if they were old enough) or when it was first shown on TV. I wonder how many of my generation actually have hydrophobia as a result of this double whammy.

Lonely Water is a masterpiece of horror that was permitted to be shown at any time pre and post-watershed on British television. Generation X has never gotten over it.

Grade- A+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 9- I Don’t Want To Be Born (1975)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 9- I Don’t Want To Be Born (1975)

This film has the best plotline of any movie in the history of cinema. Really!

Joan Collins stars as a stripper in a burlesque joint. Her co-star is a gypsy dwarf named Hercules. He makes advances on his co-star but when she knocks him back he places a curse on her unborn baby making the unborn child psychopathic.

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If that wasn’t enough, the film also co-stars Donald Pleasance, Ralph Bates and Caroline Munro. Kids TV legend Floella Benjamin even stars as a nurse. Holy great casting, Batman.

The film effortlessly captures the period with 70’s London looking beautiful but with a sleazy underbelly as exemplified by the strip club. The film also gives La Collins an opportunity to look breathlessly fabulous in every scene. And every scene necessitates a costume change for Joanie.

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And then there are the fantastic kills from the baby from hell. I love how the film cuts from some awful act of violence to the cutest baby you’ve ever seen. It feels completely jarring, surreal and works really well.

I Don’t Want To Be Born also goes by other titles such as The Devil Within Her, Sharon’s Baby and The Monster which is the title that is being used for a new Blu Ray release from Network Releasing who are fantastic with their titles and so I look forward to how great this title will look. 70’s Joan Collins in High Def! We really don’t deserve it. And we’ve only just had Blu Ray releases of both The Bitch and The Stud.

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I actually think this film is a masterpiece. It’s also my favourite film from 1975. Yes, I think it’s better or maybe just as good as Jaws and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

Of course, there are those who dismiss this title as just 70’s exploitation fluff. But that lazy summation disregards the beautiful cinematography, the time capsule aspect of the time the film captures both on and off camera (there was a real thirst for horror movies amongst British cinema-goers in the 70s and 80s) and the set design which is pinpoint perfect. Oh, and the acting is pretty fantastic too. This film may be an Exorcist/Rosemary’s Baby rip-off but just like Beyond The Door it more than holds its own just like Piranha did in the wake of Jaws or Zombie Flesh Eaters after Dawn of the Dead.

A classic film. Seriously.

Grade- A+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 7- Alligator (1980)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 7- Alligator (1980)

Ramon the baby alligator gets flushed down the toilet. 12 years later Ramon is now living in the sewers where he has ingested hormones that have made him grow massively. He’s also very hungry.

Alligator is a fantastic horror film that also has a brilliant sense of dark humour. But this isn’t one of those ‘comedy horrors’ that are light on horror and heavy on naff laughs.

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Robert Forster stars as the cop with the receding hairline who is on the case. With snappy (pun not intended) dialogue by the fantastic John Sayles, more quirky characters than you can shake a stick at and masterful direction by Lewis Teague (who would later direct the equally brilliant Cujo) this movie really delivers.

Watch out for the garden party scene. It’s a doozy.

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Alas, when Alligator was released in the UK the BBFC cut almost all of the gore from the film so that it would receive an ‘A’ certificate (the equivalent to today’s PG rating). The film would then be resubmitted uncut to the Board in 1991 and would receive a 15 rating with all previous cuts waived.

You know you’ve made a great film when a toy company makes a game based on it.

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The game made by Ideal based on the film

Grade- A-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 5- Blackenstein (1973)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 5- Blackenstein (1973)

Eddie Turner steps on a landmine whilst serving in Nam and loses his limbs as a result. His fiance Winifred is a physicist and looks to her former teacher Doctor Stein (his name is a red flag already) who has recently won the Nobel prize for his work regarding DNA and so may be able to graft new limbs onto Eddie. What could possibly go wrong? Well, lots. Dr Stein’s assistant Malcomb is knocked back by Winifred and so to retaliate he contaminates the DNA solution used in Eddie’s operation so that Eddie turns into an uncontrollable killing man-beast. While he appears bed-bound by day he secretly goes on killing rampages at night.

As you may have guessed this is the blaxploitation version of Frankenstein and was made after Blacula (the blaxploitation version of…do I really have to tell you?!) was a hit at the box office.

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The main word when describing this film is FUN. Yes, it’s cheesy in places but so what? It’s a perfect time capsule of the genre and what horror and drive-in audiences were lapping up at the time. And if I had been around during this era I would have been with them doing the same.

I’m loving that Eddie’s first port of call is to pay a visit to the male nurse we saw being abusive to him earlier in the film. I also love the fact that the punishment that Eddie doles out is to rip off one of the orderly’s arms. Who said there was no such thing as irony in films like this?

Blackenstein is also noteworthy as John Waters’ starlet Liz Renay is one of Blackenstein’s victims. Yes, Ms Renay from Desperate Living!

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My face for the world to see! Yes, Liz Renay stars in this film!

Look out for the Severin Blu ray that restores two versions of the film (the theatrical and slightly longer home video version). The film has never looked or sounded so good.

Grade- B-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 3- Werewolves on Wheels (1971)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 3- Werewolves on Wheels (1971)

I first saw this movie on VHS when I spent a year in Sydney, Australia. There was a Civic Video just off the red light district of Kings Cross that had a stash of low budget horror movies and other obscure titles. This was manna from heaven for me as I rented them all. One of them was Werewolves on Wheels, a film I had first read about in the essential tome Incredibly Strange Films by the Re:Search publishing house.

A biker gang break bread with the members of a local Satanist church and then start to change.

Let’s check off what this movie has all present and correct-

– Great movie title- check

– Great movie poster- check

– Great soundtrack- check

– Great plot- no, nope, NOPE!

It’s such a shame when a movie has so much going for it but forgets about a plot or any kind of narrative for an audience who isn’t stoned.

Werewolves on Wheels is too much wheels and not enough werewolves.

Grade- D

31 Days of Halloween- Day 2- Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 2- Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971)

Jessica, her husband Duncan and their friend Woody arrive at a new house in the country that Jessica and Duncan have bought. When they arrive they are surprised to find someone squatting there. They ask this person, Emily to join them for their evening meal and then to sleep there for the night.

The next day Jessica asks Emily to stay at the house until she finds somewhere else to live. From here on in strange things start to happen to Jessica. She has already just been discharged from a psychiatric hospital into Duncan’s care and so she doesn’t share what is happening as she thinks Duncan and Woody will think these events aren’t real and are merely down to her psychological state.

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In fact, the notion of gaslighting and the doubting of one’s reality feature prominently within the film.

Jessica starts to see a blonde girl who appears at chosen times but then runs away again. When she is out swimming, someone or something grabs her under the water.

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Jessica and her husband find items in the attic that belonged to the previous owners of the house and decide to sell them to the antiques dealer in the local town. He tells them the history of the family who used to live in there- they were called the Bishops and their daughter Abigail drowned just before her wedding. But he tells them that locals say that in fact she isn’t dead and is in fact a vampire who is always on the hunt for fresh victims.

To give away any more plot points would be to ruin the film and so they will end there! Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is a fantastic gem of a film. Made in 1971 by director John Hancock, it has an air and feel all of its own. I love the fact that we are privy to Jessica’s thoughts which add another layer to the film and a palpable paranoia to proceedings.

There’s also the subtext of the city folk vs the locals that feels fresh here rather than cliched. And the locals of the local town are very unwelcoming indeed. In fact, they’re downright scary. And why are they all bandaged in some way?

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There are elements of Carnival of Souls within the film and Hancock’s film feels like it had some kind of influence on Spielberg’s Something Evil (which, by the way, STILL hasn’t been issued on Blu Ray. Scream Factory are the perfect candidates for this. Just a thought).

Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is a forgotten gem that isn’t forgotten anymore. In fact, its reputation has deservedly snowballed since its original release.

Hancock went on to direct the early De Niro masterpiece Bang The Drum Slowly which is also highly recommended.

Grade- B+

Review- Alice Sweet Alice (1976)

Review- Alice Sweet Alice (1976)

I love the horror films that are unlike any other films in the genre and stand-alone with their quirks and idiosyncrasies. One such film is Alice Sweet Alice.

The film was actually called Communion when it premiered at numerous film festivals but was then retitled Alice Sweet Alice when it was picked up by its distributor and then released in 1977. With one of its stars, Brooks Shields becoming a star in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby even though she only appears in this film for all of about 10 minutes, it was then released again in 1981 under the name of Holy Terror. The film also received the ultimate seal of approval in the early ’80s when it was banned during the Video Nasty moral panic in the UK.

Not many horror films revolve around the issue of Catholicism but Alice Sweet Alice does and to horrific and chilling effect.

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We see Karen who is preparing for her first communion and her older sister Alice at home. It seems that whatever Alice does Karen whines about to their mother as is the case when Alice puts on her communion veil. This first scene seems to expand into a deeper theme within the film and that is what psychologists talk about regarding family relations when one child is treated as a ‘golden child’ (in this case Karen) and when another is treated as a ‘scapegoat’ for anything wrong that happens or any misdemeanour (Alice). The film expands on this further later in proceedings.

As revenge for Karen being such a brat, Alice lures her to an abandoned warehouse and scares her before locking her in a separate room and then threatening her if she tells anyone.

We see Alice wear a transparent (and very creepy) mask and bright yellow raincoat to scare their housekeeper Mrs Tredoni. Later on during the communion service we see someone wearing the same mask and raincoat bump off Karen by strangling her and then placing her body in a compartment within a bench then placing a lit candle inside for good measure. Could the person who did this be Alice who we had seen wear a similar mask earlier in proceedings?

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The film is very much a whodunnit as to whether it is Alice who is carrying out the murders and also if it isn’t her, then who is it and why?

Alice Sweet Alice is a proto-slasher movie and a fantastic one at that. Not only do we get the storyline regarding whether Alice is the murderer or not but also a brilliant character study regarding this character that goes into family dynamics that have only started to creep into public discussions recently.

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Add to this the very unexpected supporting characters who are as out-there as they are unexpected (check out the character of the bald, fat neighbour Mr Alphonso and you’ll fully understand what I’m talking about) and you have another demonstration of why this film really is a one-off and all the more brilliant because of it.

There are also moments of near hysteria within the narrative that feel like they’re straight out of a John Waters movie. In fact, when I first saw the sequence in which the character of Annie is stabbed I instantly thought of when the shopper has her feet stomped on by Dexter aka The Baltimore Footstomper from Polyester. The acting is unhinged and utterly genius because of it.

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Add to this some very inventive kills (check out the sequence in which Annie is killed in the hallway and when a later victim is thrown from a high building to land on broken mirrors down below) and one of the creepiest killer’s disguises I’ve ever seen (the director was influenced by Don’t Look Now in his choice of the raincoat).

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The look of the film is just as striking with a gorgeous muted colour palette that I’ve never seen in a film before and beautiful photography that means that this is so much more than just your average 70’s horror oddity. In fact, it’s just one reason as well as the ones mentioned previously why this film is a complete and utter gem. The way to experience this flick is by going for the US Arrow Video Blu Ray. Their restoration of the film is a revelation and really something to behold.

Grade- B+

Leatherface and Me- Growing Up With (and Without) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Leatherface and Me- Growing Up With (and Without) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

I saw The Texas Chain Saw Massacre at the cinema the other day. It’s been a long road but I feel like I’ve had my own personal journey with this horror masterpiece. After years of not being able to view the film, it grew in my mind to almost mythic proportions. When I finally got to see the film, was it worth the wait and would it live up to the hype?

From the very beginning, there was a massive amount of controversy with the film in the UK. On its original planned cinema release it was banned outright by the BBFC. However, those were the days when local councils could override the BBFC’s official decisions and so, whilst some local authorities agreed with the Board’s decision, a number decided to allow screenings of the film.

The advent of home video would give the film a new, albeit brief, lease of life. The film was originally released on video in 1981. But in 1984 the Board decided that all videos had to be classified by them and so for three years or so the film could be rented and viewed in the privacy of one’s home. My father actually remembers seeing the film on video, an occasion which I wasn’t privy to. Maybe he had decided to watch it when I was safely tucked up in bed. My Dad’s attitude to me watching horror and violent films from an early age was rather laissez-faire, to say the least, but maybe even he thought that the film that had such a shocker of a title would be too much for me to take at such a tender age. When he spoke about it, he did so as if to say, ‘Yes, I saw that film!’ accompanied by a startled look on his face. With such a backhanded compliment I now regard my not being able to watch the film with the rest of my family as akin to some kind of child abuse.

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With the Video Nasties’ moral panic, TCM was promptly banned. However, the parents of a friend of my older brother owned a local video shop and so, as many video shop owners did back in the day, they didn’t return any of the newly banned videos they were asked to take off their shelves. I got to see The Evil Dead via this route but my friend never showed anyone TCM as she had seen it and was truly traumatised by what she had witnessed. With this knowledge, the legend surrounding the film grew even bigger.

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There was an excellent film in the 80s called Terror in the Aisles which was a compilation of the juiciest bits of horror movies that were segued by legends Donald Pleasance and Nancy Allen. Within the movie were clips of TCM along with scenes from another withdrawn classic, The Exorcist which meant the Terror in the Aisles was essential viewing. The scene in which Pam stumbles (literally) into the room covered with chicken feathers and adorned with bizarre home furnishings was included and was so perfect that the fact that the full film couldn’t be seen in the UK meant that I hated the BBFC even more than I already did.

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As I then started to get into punk rock I saw a picture of Johnny Rotten wearing the stickers given away to the patrons of the original screenings of TCM that were being shown in London against the BBFC’s wishes. The Sex Pistols had seen the film and were endorsing it on their ripped clothing. It must be something really shocking and I needed to see it, like, NOW!

TCMStickerTCMJohnnyRottenIt wouldn’t be until 1994 when I would finally get to see the film from start to finish. My friend Tom has scored some horror classics that he taped onto two blank videotapes for me with the jewel in the crown being TCM (the others were Last House on the Left, Cannibal Holocaust and Driller Killer). And so that’s how I got to see the film- a copy that had been copied from a copy that had possibly been copied numerous times before with diminishing quality each time. The picture was fuzzy, some facial expressions were a bit hazy and fine detail was very much lacking. But hey, here was the film! And I loved it! But whilst it was and is such an intense and unnerving experience, there was something that I hadn’t been told about and hence wasn’t expecting- the humour. ‘Look what your brother did to the door!’ was one such moment. Another was the moment in which the garage owner takes the time to go back inside to turn the lights of his garage off just after he’s kidnapped Sally after explaining that the cost of electricity these days could send a man out of business.

Something that also caught me off guard but that I loved was how much the film felt like the most surreal and violent EC Comic that just so happened to have been turned into a film. The film was lurid, colourful and surreal.

Skip forward a few years and I’m living in London and have just completed a film degree. The Institute of Contemporary Arts has curated a festival of film screenings in which still banned horror titles could be legally shown for one day each after getting the green light from the BBFC. One of these films was TCM and so I could finally see it on the big screen.

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My original ticket stub for the ICA screening

But it was a wider release shortly after this and without the OK from the Board that would lead to the film being legalised. Just as years before local councils could usurp the Board and show films anyway, Camden Council decided to show the film at a cinema on Shaftesbury Avenue (and rather cheekily just a few streets away from the Board’s Soho HQ). I didn’t know about these screenings until I was walking past the cinema and my eyes jumped out of their sockets as I saw the poster. Camden Council even had their own certificate of ‘C for Camden’ for the film. I had planned an afternoon (and night) of drinking in London’s more salubrious gay bars but waylaid this to take an excursion into Hell first. The screening was amazing and the sound had been turned up to deafening levels. It really did feel like me and the two other people in the afternoon screening (that’s right, there were only two other people in the whole cinema!) had undertaken a traumatic experience together and as the film ended we all glanced at each other, nervously laughed and then exited.

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My original ticket stub for the 1999 screening

It would be these screenings that would persuade the BBFC to reexamine their classification of the film and agree to pass it uncut with an 18 certificate. Another significant factor in these proceedings was that James Ferman had retired as Head of the Board. It was during his tenure that he had tried to cut the film to finally get it released. But he concluded that there was nothing that could be cut as there was very little gore and such an underlying sense of constant tension to the film that made it impossible to cut. So basically he was ensuring that the film remain banned for being a horror film that was too effective as a horror film. Ridiculous. Thankfully, common sense prevailed and the film was then passed.

The film was duly issued in the UK on both video and DVD by Blue Dolphin in 2000.

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But a funny thing happened just before this release. With the advent of the internet, there was a website called Amazon (you may have heard of it) that was based in America where loads of horror movies were available uncut and could be bought and shipped to the UK. This was very much a game of chance with some films being seized by customs and some not. The films that were confiscated bizarrely included some titles that weren’t even banned in the UK at the time. The artwork of other VHS and DVD titles that boasted of their notoriety were being let through (the box artwork for The New York Ripper proudly stated the number of countries the film was banned in but was amazingly let through by customs to the ever grateful horror fan who had ordered it). I ordered the Pioneer DVD of TCM which was chock full of special features such as a director’s commentary and blooper reel and it got through. Yeehaw.

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With such a film as TCM now being available, there was only one direction in which the releases from now on could go and that was to restore the film so that it could look and sound as good as possible. But with a film like TCM which has always had a grimy and gritty look to it, would these new restoration programmes mean that the film would lose some of this grit and dirt and look completely different?

Dark Sky picked up the film in the US and cleaned up the visuals and audio significantly for a 2006 DVD release. Suddenly, details that couldn’t be seen before were now visible. It was akin to layers of grime being lifted from a classic painting. There were also oodles of special features and presented in a 2 disc steel book to boot. And more importantly, the look of the film didn’t suffer one iota because of these new efforts to make the film look and sound as good as it possibly could. The film still sounded like it always had with the bassy and subhuman tremors experienced still present but now sounding even more unearthly. 

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With the advent of Blu ray as a format and then 4K, this meant that even more work could be done on the film and even more care taken to present and preserve the film as the cultural force it had become. Again, Dark Sky took up the task and released a 4 disc Blu ray edition of the film, complete with a 7.1 Dolby remix (along with the original mono soundtrack for the purists) and all of the special features imaginable (3 discs worth to be precise!)

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And it was this print that I saw the other day at a cinema that was state of the art and with the biggest screen I’ve ever seen this side of IMAX. It was ironic that I should be watching the film in such a beautiful cinema with gorgeous leather seats and state of the art projection equipment when the film would originally have been seen and experienced in grindhouses and Drive-Ins across America on its first run. But did the film still hold up in such surroundings? You bet it did! There was even nuance that could be only be picked up on the mammoth screen and details that could only be heard within the 7.1 remix that couldn’t be picked up in mono (the film gets gradually louder and bassier as the action goes on) with the latter part of the film being the hellish (in a great way) experience that all TCM fans know and love. 

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So, as you can see my journey with TCM has been long and winding but so rewarding. The film being banned and then passed uncut and then released on new formats and after extensive work has been done on it has meant that the makers of the film have certainly got their dollars worth from fans like me. But the pleasure of snapping up each new release has been an absolute pleasure and I’m so happy that the film can be appreciated and savoured by future generations. TCM will always be in my list of my Top 10 favourite films. The wait was certainly worth it. 

Meathook Cinema Salutes…Pete Walker

Meathook Cinema Salutes…Pete Walker

History is the ultimate judge of everything and film is no exception. One director whose work history has been very kind to is British director Pete Walker.

Walker was actually the son of music hall star Syd Walker. His first job was as a comedian at a strip joint in Soho (!) He also made 8mm ‘glamour shorts’ before making full length (pun not intended) softcore films at the end of the 60’s with titles like School For Sex, Cool It Carol and Four Dimensions of Greta.

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The 70s-tastic Pete Walker

But it was in the 70’s that Walker turned his attention to exploitation films and primarily the horror genre.

House of Whipcord is one such film and was made in 1974. This is a lurid movie with an equally lurid title. It concerns specially selected women who were judged to be far too liberated and sexually free and are thus thrown into a mysterious correction facility so that they would receive punishment for their wicked ways.

The film exposed the huge gulf within British society at the time- on one side were those who embraced the progressive changes Britain was undergoing regarding women’s changing roles that empowered and liberated them from simply being mothers and housewives. On the other side those who were more traditional and conservative. They were angry at the new permissive society and were the kind of people who wrote venom-filled letters to the national newspapers whilst spewing bile behind their net curtains. A figurehead for these people can be seen as Mary Whitehouse and her ‘Caravan of Light’ who campaigned against everything and wanted offensive and ‘corrupting’ films to be banned (Mrs Whitehouse would come into her own in the next decade during the Video Nasties moral panic), television programmes she didn’t approve of (the watershed was introduced because of her campaigning) and even pieces of poetry that didn’t meet her outdated moral standards (the publication Gay News was disbanded after she took them to court over a poem they published regarding Jesus and one of his foot-soldiers).

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House of Whipcord- Within These Walls on steroids

House of Whipcord is a genuinely brilliant piece of exploitation and horror that holds up a mirror to what was happening in society at the time. Britain was still so repressed that it was easy for mavericks to break boundaries and challenge taboos. In fact, there were those who at this time who were delighting in poking holes in the more archaic elements of society. Punk was just around the corner and tellingly Walker was approached by Malcolm McLaren to make a documentary about The Sex Pistols. This was only cancelled because the band split up before the film could be made.

House of Whipcord is also a fantastic addition to the Women In Prison subgenre. It feels like Within These Walls on steroids. There are also elements of Kafka’s The Trial thrown in for good measure. This is highlighted by the shadowy figure of Judge Bailey who lays down the law within the facility but whose laws are completely unclear. This is an authoritarian nightmare that still feels all too real.

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Special mention needs to go to the cast. Celia Imrie starred in the film at the start of her career and she speaks about the movie at numerous points in her autobiography. She makes it sound like the film was a cinematic shocker that she starred in when she was young and needed the money. However, you get the feeling that she is kind of proud to have been in such a production with it almost attaining a kind of ‘cool’ status.

Barbara Markham is spectacularly unhinged as Head Warden Mrs Wakehurst who turns from measured to biblically psychotic in an instant (witness the sequence in which is lurches at her husband wielding a knife whilst screeching ‘If thine eye offends thee, PLUCK IT OUT!’)

An actress who would be cast by Walker in a total of five of his film and stars here is the magnificent Shelia Keith. Her portrayal of sadistic warden Walker is as cold and brilliantly extreme as Markham’s is. Think of Vinegar Tits from Prisoner Cell Block H but much more extreme.

The next of Walker’s films that stands out for me is Frightmare also from 1974. In 1957 Dorothy Yates and her husband Edmund are convicted of murder and cannibalism (!) and sent to an asylum until the film’s present-day (1974). They are then released supposedly fully cured and living a quiet life. But are they? The answer, of course, is of course not! The film shows Dorothy not being cured at all but using the cover of giving tarot readings to people who she then kills and eats.

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‘The cards predict cannibalism. Yes, really…’

The film also deals with Jackie (Edmund’s daughter from a previous marriage) who regularly visits the couple offering gifts of animal brains whilst falsely telling them that they are actually human remains and that she is actually killing people so that her stepmother doesn’t relapse and remains free. It is also revealed that her father had actually faked being complicit in the crimes and feigned madness so that he could stay with his wife. Jackie lives with Debbie, a wayward 15-year-old who is the actual daughter of the couple who was placed into an orphanage as a baby just after her parents were institutionalised. She has recently been expelled from there as she is too much for the authorities to deal with and so spends most of her time with her boyfriend who is the leader of a violent biker gang.

Walker’s film goes to the darker places that other horror films of the age wouldn’t have dared to. Frightmare has enough deprived goings-on to have even the most jaded of horror fans salivating with glee.

There’s also a playful pop at the more respectable films on release at this time and what Walker thinks of these- Jackie drags her new boyfriend out of a screening of the arty farty Blow Up- and for good reason. Why watch that when you could be watching (or even starring in) a Pete Walker film?

Another facet of Walker’s work that I love is that his films capture the world in which they’re filmed in and feel like beautifully filmed time capsules. The fact that a certain demographic was lapping up films like Walker’s with a healthy section of the cinema-going public loving all things horror and exploitation was also very revealing of the time. The drive-in and 42nd Street audiences weren’t just confined to America during this time.

There’s also a fantastic strain of black humour at play within the film with events sometimes becoming so extreme that they become surreal and darkly funny. This reminds me of the dark comedy that rears its head during the endings of both Straw Dogs and Taxi Driver. Within Frightmare, this reads as completely intentional with an almost vaudevillian Grand Guignol tone during certain scenes.

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Again, Keith features and plays the role of the cannibal housewife Dorothy resplendent with pale palour and red eyes. She attacks each character she takes on with such unbridled zest and zeal that her presence feels an essential part as to why Walker’s films are so noteworthy. Walker talked about working with her saying-

“Sheila Keith was a lady who lived a quiet life with her dogs and her cats and came into work to do, brilliantly, whatever was asked of her. She was like your nice old aunt who would serve you cucumber sandwiches before ripping into a dismembered limb – without complaining.”

I honestly think that Walker and Keith make for one of cinema’s great director/actor partnerships in much the same way De Niro and Scorsese or John Waters and Divine do.

Another Walker favourite of mine is Schizo made in 1976. Figure skater Samantha is just about to get married but we see that a former partner of her mother is travelling to London from the North East to seemingly stalk her.

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The film feels ahead of its time as issues that are more widely spoken about now such as stalking, voyeurism and obsessive behaviour directed towards a single person hadn’t been tackled in film before. All of these concepts and dysfunctional attributes would have been new and revelatory to audiences back then in much the same way as those introduced to audiences watching Hitchcock’s Psycho (crossdressing, multiple personalities) or Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (celebrity stalking, obsessive fans) for the first time.

There are also questions as to who the stalker is, why he’s stalking Samantha and what role she has in all of this. There’s a huge sting in the tale and I’m certainly not going to spoil any of this here.

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More than with any of Walker’s films before or since, Schizo really captures the time and locales it’s set in with London being beautifully captured in the year that, ironically, punk was about to explode. Just as punk marked an explosion not just within music but also within other art forms, Walker’s films can be seen as part of that movement.

Walker actually thought there were no subtexts to his films but was pleasantly surprised by what he saw when he reinvestigated his work. He said-

“But recently I had to record commentaries for the DVD releases so I saw the films for the first time since making them, and you know what? They’re not as bad as I thought. But searching for hidden meaning . . . they were just films. All I wanted to do was create a bit of mischief.”

But there is meaning and subtext to be found in all films whether this is intended by the screenwriter and/or director or not. Walker and his screenwriter David McGillivray and their views on the British society of the time are there for all to see and marvel at throughout their work.

Walker’s last film was made in 1983 and was his most polished movie to date, the big-budget House of Long Shadows which cast horror royalty Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee all in the same picture. After this film, Walker retired from making films and instead set about restoring old cinemas.

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Boxsets of Walker’s films have been released but curiously, only in the US. It’s time for 4K restorations of his work for Blu ray releases in his home country. It’s time for the outstanding back catalogue of this amazing auteur to be finally recognised and released in the UK. Walker’s work documents a secret history of a time in British cinema that was gritty, forbidden and utterly intoxicating. I think the BFI would be the best company to issue these releases and tout Walker as the major force he truly was within the British film industry even though he may have been frowned upon by others within that industry at the time. And if the BFI do release his films then they should also show a retrospective at the NFT for good measure.

That’s not asking too much, is it?

Review- The Driver (1978)

Review- The Driver (1978)

I saw this film in the best way possible back in the 80’s- on late night TV, lights dimmed with it being the last thing I watched before hitting the hay.

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Ryan O’Neal plays The Driver (no name is given for his character and this is the case for all of the lead characters), a man who is known to be the best getaway driver for any bank robbers who have the money required to hire him. Bruce Dern plays the detective who is trying to successfully arrest him. Isabelle Adjani is the leading lady billed simply as The Player.

Just as the leads have no names, their characters display a fantastic minimalism which is mesmorising to watch, especially Ryan O’Neal as the brooding, introspective lead. It’s possibly his best role along with his turn in Paper Moon. There’s also a great appearance by Ronee Blakley who of course would later appear in A Nightmare on Elm Street as the lush mother of Nancy Thompson.

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A major feature of the film is downtown LA, an eerie ghost town of neons, gorgeous architecture and brooding majesty. The allies and parking lots also feature in their dimly lit malevolence.

Another welcome addition to the film when it comes to it’s location is the inclusion of Torchy’s Bar which also features predominantly in When A Stranger Calls and 48 Hours.

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The Driver underperformed at the box office on it’s release and was almost universally panned by the critics although outside the U.S. reviews were more appreciative. When The Driver was released the film’s director Walter Hill was already working on his next film, The Warriors which garnered more positive reviews and performed better at the box office. Theres an interesting connection between the two films other than the director as well- listen to the music by Michael Small within The Driver and you’ll hear some of the creepy and unsettling psychedelic touches that Barry De Vorzon used within the soundtrack for The Warriors. Was this at Hill’s insistence for both films?

History has been very good to the film though with it now being regarded for what it is- a minimalist, urban thriller which feels in some respects like a modern version of a hard boiled crime flick from decades before. It has also gone on to influence many films in it wake such as The Terminator, Drive and Baby Driver.

The Driver is a fantastic film. When you watch it, watch it late at night.

****1/2 out of *****