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) soft core 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 from 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approve of (the watershed was introduced because of her campaigning) and even pieces of poetry that didn’t meet her outdated moral standards (the publication Gay News was disbanded after she took them to court over a poem they published regarding Jesus and one of his foot-soldiers).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 which holds up a mirror up 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 which 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 were 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 it’s 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 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 it’s 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 the 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 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?

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 24- Horror Hospital (1973)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 24- Horror Hospital (1973)

When I saw that Robin Askwith headed the cast of this British 70’s horror flick I instantly thought of the brilliant bawdy comedies The Confessions series which he starred in and were delightfully mucky and low-brow. Perfect for the era. If Mr Askwith could prove a huge hit with the sexploitation brigade surely he could score big when it came to another low brow form of entertainment, the horror film.

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Horror Hospital and The Corpse Grinders- what a double bill!

Here he plays Jason Jones who works in the music industry but after his manager rips off one of his songs he decides to escape via a company offering getaway breaks (‘Hairy Holidays’!) and heads away from London and the music scene. He meets a girl on a train and they get on handsomely. She is even going to the same ‘health farm’ that he is headed to.

And so the adventure begins. Even the ticket collector at the station they arrive at is like someone from a Hammer horror film. However, this holiday destination is actually a hospital in which the residents are wayward hippies and permissive types who are then lobotomised.

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The resulting adventure is part horror film, part groovy campathon which it accomplishes with relish. There is a cast of various oddball supporting characters that are just as entertaining as the main players and there are great touches such as the car fitted with a huge knife that shoots out to behead anyone brave enough to try and escape.

This film captures a great time in British film when films were made for the young with their content being just as boundary transgressing as the youth of the day themselves. Hence genres such as bawdy, racy comedies and bloody (but humorous) horror was the order of the day. A golden era.

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As lurid as the paisley underpants Askwith wore in the Confessions movies.

***and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 16- House of Whipcord (1974)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 16- House of Whipcord (1974)

It’s 1974. A French starlet who isn’t averse to modelling with no clothes on is seduced by an enigmatic young man who asks to take her home to meet his parents. However, his home appears to be some kind of old institution like a long forgotten prison. And this is exactly what it is. His mother is the sadistic Governor of her own prison where her son takes flagrant examples of the new ‘permissive’ society so that they can be punished and even executed because of their lax ways.

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This is Within These Walls on steroids. I love the fact that there is a notice at the start of the film that reads “This film is dedicated to those who are disturbed by today’s lax moral codes and who eagerly await the return of corporal and capital punishment.” This is obviously a film that is parodying and sticking up two fingers to the puritanical types who didn’t like that the society of the time was becoming more permissive and free, the ‘Bring Back Hanging’ brigade. Britain was moving away from it’s more conservative ways and some weren’t happy about this as they flocked to fill the letters pages of every national newspaper. Precedents were falling and were set to fall even further as during the 70’s. One prime example of this movement that directly affected film was Mary Whitehouse and her Caravan of Light both of which would try to get exploitation films like House of Whipcord banned. Whitehouse was massively active during the Video Nasties furore that would occur during the next decade.

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But within the film’s duration there are currents of dissent as prisoners held at the institution secretly plan to overthrow the evil wardens and hopefully escape this kangeroo prison. This film adheres to but also subverts the conventions of prison genres but especially the ‘women in prison’ genre and only excludes lesbianism which maybe for the time in Britain would have been a step too far for that still conservative time. Had it have been included then the film may have fallen foul of the BBFC. The theme of an uprising is one of the prime tropes of this genre and I love that this was so brilliantly depicted. But I also love the result of this which ironically delivers back to the prison the woman who had successfully escaped.

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Special mentions go out to Barbara Markham as the deranged Governor and Sheila Keith as one of the sadistic wardens. House of Whipcord was called Flagellations abroad. Quite. 

Another Pete Walker masterpiece. Now, can we have a Blu Ray boxset of his back catalogue please?

****and a half out of *****

 

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 15- Village of the Damned (1960)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 15- Village of the Damned (1960)

Mysteriously one day everyone in the village of Midwich suddenly lapses into unconsciousness. After a few hours everyone just as mysteriously wakes up. Two months later every woman in the village who is able to become pregnant finds that they are pregnant.  Whats more the embryos are found to develop abnormally fast.

The children look eerily alike with blond hair and strange eyes. They are also shown to possess intelligence way beyond their years. As the children grown older they are shown to be able to control other’s actions through using their ‘stare’ in which their eyes seemingly glow and hypnotise their prey. They are also able to read other’s minds. As if that wasn’t enough, they display a telepathic bond between themselves also.

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There soon develops a separation between the ‘normal’ children and indeed people of the village and the ‘gifted’ children. The twain very rarely mix except within their respective families.

But then strange and unaccountable deaths of locals start to occur in the village. One example is of a villager who was an excellent swimmer suddenly drowning. Another example finds the children causing a man to crash his car into a wall at high speed. The dead man’s brother tries to avenge his death but is forced by the children to shoot himself instead.

The children appear to have a complete lack of empathy, compassion or indeed, humanity. They appear to be complete devoid of emotion or warmth.

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When dealing with such entities it is realised that drastic measures have to be taken as has been demonstrated by other countries who have also shown evidence of similar mutant children in recent years.

And that’s all I’m going to tell you! The ending is a real shocker! In fact this is a superb adaptation of one of my favourite books (The Midwich Cuckoos) by one of my favourite authors (John Wyndham- and if you haven’t read any of his books I implore you to read some NOW!)

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Amazing direction, perfectly acted, a great sense of tension until the shocking conclusion. This film wasn’t just taboo then but also feels taboo now, such is the power of the material. This was remade by John Carpenter in 1995.

There was a VERY funny parody of this movie within The Simpsons with a new movie called The Bloodening playing at a Springfield drive-in. Have a look on YouTube for the clip. It’s The Simpsons at their best.

****and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 12- Frightmare (1974)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 12- Frightmare (1974)

***TRIGGER WARNING!!!*** This is a Pete Walker movie.

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 no! 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 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 faked 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.

Wow. There’s a lot going on in this film that is typical Pete Walker fare in that it’s dark, violent and dares to go to the places that other milder horror films dare not go. Which is exactly why I love him. He knows exactly what horror fans want and he delivers it in spades.

But there is more than meets the eye. Frightmare is also blackly funny, almost (and intentionally) vaudevillian at times and extremely intelligent. This is not just a horror movie but also a funny and very perceptive satire on family values and blood (pardon the pun) being thicker than water.

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Add to that gorgeous cinematography, amazing locales (loving the London scenes and surrounding area shots) and a moment in time being captured not just on film but also regarding film (this was a boon time for British horror with Hammer, Tigon, Amicus and directors like Walker all making great horror movies which would do amazing business at the box office).

I love the scene where Jackie drags her new boyfriend out of a screening of Blow Up. What a great statement on art movies which were then in vogue in some quarters of the mainstream.

All of the characters are brilliantly drawn and portrayed fantastically well with Walker regular Sheila Keith playing Dorothy with twisted relish. She is also able to be completely nuts one minute and then change into a repentant innocent little wife persona when her husband has seen what she’s done.

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The magnificent Sheila Keith

Kim Butcher as Debbie is also great when it comes to portraying a young girl with the quality to make others do her evil bidding for her. This is shown when she tells her biker boyfriend about the barman who wouldn’t serve her but then embellishes the story. Her boyfriend and his biker friends wait for him after the nightclub they are in has closed up to give him a good hiding. She reminds me of Chris Hargensen from Carrie.

The film hits every target it aims for with a bullseye and is pretty much perfect. I honestly think Frightmare is a twisted masterpiece.

***** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 11- The Sorcerers (1967)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 11- The Sorcerers (1967)

A Tigon film from 1967 regarding Marcus, a doctor (played by Boris Karloff) who practices hypnosis. His wife Estelle is also part of his practice as they search for a suitable subject for their experiments. Step forward swinging 60’s hip-cat Mike Roscoe (played by future Saint Ian Ogilvy) who Marcus picks up in a Wimpy bar (it sounds well dodgy, eh?!) Roscoe follows Marcus back to his house and his hypnosis machine whilst being promised good times with no consequence before Marcus uses the machine on him.

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After undergoing the hypnosis machine (this sequence is very aesthetically pleasing. Think of the inner sleeve portraits of the band from The Velvet Underground and Nico album with the projectiles of dots over their faces and you’re almost there) we learn that Marcus and his wife are able to experience whatever Mike is experiencing (but this is a double-edged sword as any physical injuries that Mike sustains will also be inflicted on the couple) with the pair being able to influence this by planting thoughts in Mike’s mind to force him to do whatever they wish.

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But with such an ability to control someone’s life there comes great responsibility and you will learn the controller’s true intentions and characters. Marcus becomes almost like an angel on Mike’s shoulder whilst his wife Estelle becomes the opposite and it isn’t long before she’s forcing him to beat up and even murder those around him. She even destroys the hypnosis machine when Marcus suggest deprogramming Mike’s current mentally malleable state.

This film is terrific but I knew it would be as it’s directed by Michael Reeves who made the similarly amazing Witchfinder General (aka The Conqueror Worm in the States). A fantastic premise, engaging characters but also very poignant as London life in the 60’s is captured beautifully from the ‘new’ of the hip clubs Mike resides in through to the ‘old’ of the streets, pubs and newsagents of everyday life. This film is like a time capsule and photographed handsomely.

The cast are uniformly brilliant but it’s the covertly evil Estelle, the Lady Macbeth of the film who steals the show. Her performance is astonishing as her face and eyes seemingly mutate and become more evil as her character does.

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A classic.

****and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 10- Bloody New Year (1987)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 10- Bloody New Year (1987)

I knew very little about Bloody New Year prior to watching it for this review. I thought it might be another slasher movie themed around yet another public holiday just like New Year’s Evil.

How wrong I was! Every now and again I watch a film that is so ‘out there’ that I think to myself ‘What the hell was that?!’ Bloody New Year is one such film.

We see New Year celebrations at a small coastal hotel with the guests forming a conga and leaving the function room with only one woman remaining. The action then shoots forward to the 80’s whereby some young adults are at a funfair and see an American girl being harassed on the waltzers by some locals/carnies. They decide to rescue her but piss off the carnies in the process who chase after them. They all get into a boat and sail away to a small local island to escape them. They run aground and have to swim/wade to shore. Once there they see a small hotel in the distance and decide to go there to dry off and freshen up. Things turn increasingly weird when they get there.

This film is actually British made and feels like one of the Look and Read dramas that were made for schools in the UK in the 80’s. In fact I seem to remember seeing one which was called Fairground! (loving the exclamation mark!) in 1983. Its almost like this film was written for (and possibly by) a bunch of 8 years olds. That’s not to put the film down but just to point out that the whole film holds a remarkably non-jaded and innocent air to events that unfurl within the movie. 

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Notice the embossed video sleeve for the UK release. Maybe this is where the majority of the film’s budget went towards.

Bloody New Year is cheaply made, the special effects are sub-par, the events that happen within the hotel feel like a string of cliches. In fact, the film feels like a bunch of kids were given some video nasties to watch and then the film’s writers asked them what they had seen and noted their exaggerated recollections down and used them as the plot of this movie.

Whilst all of these points feel like criticisms, amazingly THEY’RE NOT! I watched it, was left with the feeling of ‘What the…?!’ when it finished but also realised that I had loved it! And that is one of the things about cult cinema- the film you hold dear might be completely inept and a poorly executed movie resplendent with shoddy production values. But it might have an air or an atmosphere to it that is specific to that film and that film alone. And Bloody New Year has this in spades. 

I love the fact that it is British made, with the male characters looking like contestants from a 1987 episode of Blind Date. They’re all mullets and C&A/Burton’s clothing. The fashions exhibited by the female characters is no better. It’s such a shame when they decide to change out of their clothes into the 1950’s togs they find at the hotel. 

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Mullets and clothes from C&A. One of many reasons to love Bloody New Year

The chain of events that happen in the seemingly possessed hotel feel like a million miles away from The Shining. In fact, instead of merely regurgitating the events from Kubrick’s film albeit with a fraction of the budget (although there are unavoidable similarities regarding past events being held in both locales), the film seemingly goes down the route of using The Evil Dead as a primary influence. This is interesting as the filmmakers must have seen the film, admired it’s low budget ethos (they knew that this was the route to go down for their film with it’s apparent lack of a sizeable budget) and how it worked admirably for Sam Raimi (and also how the film was absolutely huge and not just in the UK because of the video nasty furore and the film being banned but also worldwide) . Thus within Bloody New Year we get bodily dismemberment, characters turning into zombies/demons and even a male character who returns to the hotel only to then turn into a zombie/demon. There even a scene that takes place in the woods near the hotel in which they seemingly come to life and sounds of people’s laughter (in reality possibly a sitcom laugh track obtained by the filmmakers) being heard by the characters trying to escape this particular madness. There is even a POV shot with the camera rushing at the characters through the woods like Raimi used to great effect in his film. 

Then there is the make-up used for the effects in the film that looks like it was done by a GCSE art group. A trick within low budget filmmaking is not to focus on the make up or effects for too long especially if they were done on the cheap. This film bravely chooses to go the opposite route and focus on them in lingering shots. Potentially not a wise move but another quality of the film that makes it so endearing.

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The makeup and hair expertise of the film

I’m loving the fact that one of the deaths was seemingly inspired by The Exorcist with a character’s neck (one of the carnies from the beginning of the film who hated the group so much that they actually went to the trouble of finding another boat and sailing to the island after the youngsters to wreak revenge) being twisted around not just once but multiple times for added horror effect.

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Also within this mess is the fact that within the hotel seemingly inanimate objects have the power to come alive and attack the group (a fishing net and carved head on a bannister being but two), the character of a ghost chambermaid who reappears and then disappears numerous times during the film’s running time and a sequence involving all of the monsters/demons/zombies coming together to ask the two human characters to just give in and ‘join us’ (again, The Evil Dead influence resounds loudly!).

Look out for the scene near the end where the house seemingly gets bored of the couple of characters who are still human and just chucks them out of one of it’s windows. Hilarious.

Blend all of these ingredients together and you have a cheap horror movie made for the straight to video market in the UK where the whole ‘video nasty’ moral panic was going through a second wave (possibly because Sam Raimi had just released The Evil Dead 2, ironically). Bloody New Year should have been bogged down by it’s seemingly negative aspects and forgotten about.

But that’s the thing. Even though it should be rubbish, it’s not! One major plus is that it’s never boring. My interest never flagged during the runtime and I was gripped until the end. The film has so much wide-eyed innocence to it and that fact that it feels like an especially bloody ‘made for schools’ special or episode of Dramarama that it works. It also has heart. This is cult cinema at it’s purest and before you ask I would never call this ‘so bad, it’s good’ (I would never call any film that redundant term). It has qualities that any number of big budget horror films will never have. I’d see this again in a heartbeat. I think this is infinitely better than It and the recent Halloween reimagining put together.

And the strange thing is that others agree with me. I thought I was going mad at how much I enjoyed this film and so I did something that I rarely do- I search online for other reviews. Sure there were the idiots who said that this was trash. But there were others who loved the film also despite it’s flaws or limitations. I’m not mad after all! There’s even a Cinema Snob episode devoted to it.

I look forward to buying the Blu Ray release of this from the States on Vinegar Syndrome. Fortunately this film is also on YouTube here.

**** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 7- The Haunted House of Horror (1969)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 7- The Haunted House of Horror (1969)

This Tigon film takes place in Swinging London as we see a bunch of twentysomethings at a party who then decide to liven things up by going to an old out of town mansion that is reported to be haunted. The backstory as to why is that the family who used to lived there twenty years previously had all been butchered by a family member.

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Things go awry when the group decide to split up and explore the inside of the property with candles. Two members of the entourage are then killed with the rest fleeing the mansion in fear for their lives. The police then investigate.

The film explores an interesting conceit that the group members who weren’t murdered and escaped now have to grapple with regarding the murderer. Was it someone already at the mansion or more shockingly, was it a member of their group? Paranoia and ennui ensue.

The version of this film that I saw was a 2K restoration and looked gorgeous. The colour palate for the film is shown off beautifully with the finest in late 60’s mind expanding fashions being shown in all their glory. The interior design is just as ‘of the moment’.

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Frankie Avallone stars as the only Yank in the film (he also looks like he’s been beamed in from the 1950’s) whilst his co-stars include Richard O’Sullivan and Jill Haworth.

The kills are just as lurid, colourful and ‘pop art’ as the fashions with the blood being bright vivid red and very paint like. It’s aesthetically pleasing and reminds me of the blood used in George A Romero’s masterpiece Dawn of the Dead a few years later.

But whilst the film looks great and acts as a time capsule for what was going on in 1969 (albeit a sanitised filmmaker’s version), the rest of the film is a bit pedestrian. The police investigate, the groovy bunch decide to go back to the mansion to look for clues (!) and then the film concludes (no ending spoiler here). It’s mostly unremarkable with bland characters, not much plot and middle of the road dialogue.

A bit like one of the groovy beautiful characters in the cast, the film looks great but is quite empty. A shame.

*and a half out of *****

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A beautiful film but somewhat empty

My Film of the Year is…

My Film of the Year is…

…Cats! OK, just kidding.

2019 has been a great year for films and trying to pick my favourite movie has been very hard.

Whether it was the utterly engrossing Shockingly Wicked, Evil and Vile and it’s captivating central performance by Zac Efron as Ted Bundy, the dark heart of Joker which held up a mirror to the divided world it was made in whilst possessing a very warped sense of humour (the cockney midget not being able to reach the door handle being one such example), the assured brilliance of Scorsese’s The Irishman with it’s themes of ageing and taking stock of one’s life (as much as a psychopath can take stock, that is) and the fantastic vision that provided the backdrop for Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (at last, Bruce Lee and Charles Manson in the same movie!), it’s been a cineaste’s dream of a year.

But my film of the year must go to Blue Story- a film depicting gang warfare and knife/gun crime in present day London that was very controversial from the get go because rival gangs went to see it armed with machetes at one screening in Birmingham. After fights broke out in the foyer the film was pulled from several cinema chains.

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However, the Vue cinema chain reinstated it’s screenings as they saw the importance of such a film being shown and because the film’s director questioned whether there was a racist agenda behind his film being pulled from distribution.

And thank God he did. Blue Story is such a brilliant work. Exploring the power of group identity and it’s lethal role in the lives of the disillusioned young men depicted, machismo, misplaced pride and how these qualities can turn best friends into sworn enemies, with plenty of others unwittingly becoming collateral damage. These themes feel relevant to any era but tragically so in the UK at the moment. But this isn’t the sole purpose why I have chosen this as my favourite film of the year. It’s the brilliance of the film on every level that has made it my Number 1 film experience of 2019.

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The film also makes human the kind of people who would be mere impersonal names of fatalities in the news and this is where it’s power lies. We get to see the lead characters as what they are- teenage boys making their way in the world with it’s ups and downs and also with some very touching moments of comedy. They feel achingly real which makes what is to come all the more tragic.

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In fact, the role of the rapper who bridges each of the film’s major episodes with his recap of what we’ve just seen and what is to come feels like a modernised version of the Greek chorus found in Greek tragedy and was an inspired touch.

I see that this was actually made by BBC Films. Lets hope this is shown on the BBC so that as many people can see such a brilliant piece of work.

 

Review- The Servant (1963)

Review- The Servant (1963)

After he has come back from travelling, a wealthy young man named Tony (James Fox) decides to employ a house servant. Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) successfully applies for the position. The relationship works well but this soon changes when Tony’s girlfriend Susan starts to spend time at Tony’s abode. She seems not to treat Barrett as human and takes the role of ‘master’ to his ‘servant’ to almost cruel lengths. Things get even more surreal with the introduction of Barrett’s ‘sister’ who comes to work under Tony in the same subservient role.

I’m surprised I’ve only just seen this film for the first time. It was worth the wait. This is brilliant on every level. There are universally fantastic performances especially from Fox and Bogarde who throw themselves into the descent into madness which Harold Pinter’s adaptation of Robin Maugham’s book portrays.

In fact, Pinter has a cameo role in the scene in the restaurant which epitomises the convention-breaking nature of the material at hand. We are shown an excerpt from the conversation from each table in the venue. We’re privileged enough to become privy to multiple different narratives and stories from many different characters, not just Tony and his girlfriend. One of these pairings is Pinter as a socialite and his date.

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Check out director Joseph Losey’s use of mirrors to portray the action but also to distort it’s view to the audience just as the film’s events are being shaped and distorted. Also, check out Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography which is breathtaking.

The film also reverses, subverts and delightfully fiddles around with the power dynamic of the ‘master’ and ‘servant’- who is serving who? Do the truly subservient characters even realise?

In fact, things get so surreal that I would have sworn that Pinter had written this story himself rather than just adapting it. This would make a great triple-bill with William Friedkin’s The Birthday Party (also written by Pinter) and Polanski’s Repulsion.

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On The Servant’s release it won a raft of awards and rightfully so. It also resides on The BFI’s Top 100 British Film’s list.

4 out of 5 stars