It used to be really popular in Britain when I was growing up for the hottest topics of the day to be debated and discussed live in a studio with experts on a stage and an audience who would ask questions and contribute. A famous example is the debate regarding certain religious figures calling for the Monty Python movie The Life Of Brian to be banned on the grounds of blasphemy. John Cleese and Michael Palin debated the issue with Roman Catholic journalist and satirist Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood.
A debate that was televised in 1984 regarded the Video Nasties furore and I actually remember watching it at the time! The link is below.
It’s so great to see representatives from both sides of the argument being in the studio and arguing their cases (notice those against the release of horror movies trying to talk over those who wanted them to be released).
I read Martin Barker’s seminal book Video Nasties around this time as I did the publication of Clifford Hill’s flawed study to see just how many kids falsely claimed to have seen the hotly debated cinematic shockers such as The Evil Dead and The Driller Killer.
There’s also great footage of a video store of the time, a very funny reenactment of children watching said Video Nasties and some hilariously macabre music to accompany this. This creepy music is even played over the start of the TV debate.
But my favourite line from the whole programme must be MP Graham Bright asserting that these corrupting films not only affect children but also dogs. I do remember my dog at the time being somewhat murderous after we all watched Nightmares In A Damaged Brain for the first time but that might be because we had forgotten to feed her.
The hysteria of the time must be unbelievable for people to comprehend in 2021 but these horror movies were Public Enemy Number 1 at the time and this moral panic lasted for years. I remember a local newspaper article complaining about the evil effects of horror movies in 1987 which launched an avalanche of angry and disapproving readers letters in the next issue. The editor noted that not one letter standing up for the movies had been received.
And of course the whole furore erupted again in 1993 after James Bulger was abducted and murdered with Child’s Play 3 becoming the 90’s version of The Evil Dead and a target of society’s scorn and bile.
Thankfully common sense prevailed. Or could this hysteria happen again?
This programme is here and my Video Nasties documentary playlist is here.
You’re on tour in the U.S. as the frontperson of one of the biggest bands on the planet. Some people would request a room full of hookers and cocaine. Some would demand that all of the brown M&M’s are removed from the band’s munchies.
Robert Smith of The Cure, on the other hand, is a man after my own heart. He did exactly what I would done. He requested the films that were either banned or unreleased in the UK due to the overzealous and prudent British Board of Film Classification that were freely available to be seen in America.
The following fax was sent by Robert in the 90’s so that someone could obtain these celluloid goodies for him.
And what a list it is! Cult film fans would swoon at such classics. Not only is Robert a master of pop music but he has a fantastic taste in movies too.
I remember in one of The Cure’s tour programmes that Robert stated his favourite films as being Taxi Driver, Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Polyester and Grey Gardens amongst others.
Robert- I didn’t think I could love you anymore than I already do. I was wrong.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I love any film that is so notorious it generates it’s own urban legend regarding it’s controversial release, whether this account is true or not.
One such film is Lucio Fulci’s 1982 sleazy slasher gorefest, The New York Ripper. Rumour has it that when the UK distributor submitted it to the British Board of Film Classification, the censors were so appalled by what they saw that the print was given a police escort out of the country. The truth of the matter is that chief censor James Ferman (apparently) decided to send the print back to it’s rights owners in Italy to prevent the distributors making copies for video or get local approval for regional cinema screenings. Mr Ferman did this to prevent the distributors being found guilty of obscenity if the matter was taken to court. Ferman is conveniently framed on the BBFC’s website as doing them a favour- whilst effectively making sure that they didn’t get their own way and distributed the film anyway.
Not many films have become synonymous with epitomising both the 42nd Street and Video Nasties scenes but The New York Ripper does and it does it brilliantly. This is a truly brutal piece of slasher cinema and is so grimy that you feel like you need to take a shower after it.
It starts as it means to go on with an old man playing a game of fetch with his dog. But instead of bringing back the piece of wood thrown for it into a bush on the banks of the Hudson River, the dog brings back a decomposing human hand. The film’s title is even superimposed over this image as if it’s typical of the film’s content. And it is! Fulci is proudly extolling the film’s content and intent.
It’s discovered that this is a body part of the latest victim of a crazed killer who is stalking and killing prostitutes in the city. The prostitute’s landlady tells the cop on the case that the guy who Anne went to meet bizarrely had the voice of a duck.
Throughout the film we get to see other victims as they are butchered but the actual killer isn’t revealed until the end which in typical Giallo fashion means that this is a whodunnit as well as a horror film. A number of characters are set up as potential suspects for both the police and the audience, particularly the mysterious man who has two fingers missing from his right hand.
Most of the characters in the film are interesting, quirky, and in some cases, just as sleazy as the film. One such example is that of Jane Lodge. We first see her in the front row of a live sex show theatre in Times Square. She is not only avidly watching the action but also recording the encounter. We find out that she does this for her husband whom she is in an open marriage with. She takes home mementoes from her daily search for sexy trysts for them both to enjoy (she’s clearly living her best life). Whilst front row we see that she is clearly getting off on what she is seeing and is revealed to be dressed for the occasion by wearing suspenders under her fashionable garb of trilby, raincoat and immaculate make-up. We later see her on another sexcapade that takes place in a Hispanic dockside bar that defies belief. Let’s just say it involves toes. She reminds me of an even sleazier version of Angie Dickinson’s bored housewife character from Dressed To Kill.
Secret double lives seem to be a thing within the film. Williams who is hunting this homicidal Donald Duck is shown in bed with a prostitute he regularly visits. The fact that he’s a cop seemingly doesn’t deter him. Even the doctor whom Williams hires to advise on the case is shown buying a gay porno mag from a street vendor (‘Have a nice evening!’ the vendor says to him with a chuckle).
And then there are the kills. Oh my. The murders are extremely graphic and, in some cases, involve razor blades being used on faces, eyeballs as well as on female anatomy. There are also guttings. A coroner describes one decapitation to Williams in graphic detail and even throws in the word ‘joytrail’ for good measure as to where the killer entered his knife. There’s also a murder that involves a broken bottle being thrust into a woman’s ‘joytrail’ who has just come offstage at the sex show that Jane had a ringside seat for. There is even a POV shot for the bottle.
The film feels like Fulci wanted to make the ultimate piece of exploitation centred around the Big Apple which in those days was rotten to the core- a crime ridden city where danger lurked on every corner but particularly for women. Think of the opening credits for The Equalizer and you get the idea. Every man is a rapist, mugger or murderer. The backdrops for the kills within the film showcase the different appropriate locales that the city had to offer with the subway, dirty ‘rent by the hour’ motel rooms and even the Staten Island Ferry being utilised. There are also lingering shots of 42nd Street. The Deuce has never been so beautifully captured since Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. It would seem that Fulci’s film is a lower rent, exploitation descendent of that film just as William Lustig’s Maniac and Abel Ferrera’s Driller Killer are.
For such a grimy and sleazy movie, it has been beautifully shot and lit as the new Blue Underground 4K Blu Ray fully shows. This is the best edition to grab if you are new to this masterpiece.
With The New York Ripper, Fulci set out to outdo himself and make the most sleazy, gory and sensationalistic Grindhouse movie of all time. Boy, did he succeed! The New York Ripper is a perfect storm of 80’s Giallo, 42nd Street and the Video Nasties moral panic. And, it lives up to it’s reputation whilst being a fantastic movie to boot. Whilst Zombi 2 may be a good ‘in’ for those who are new to Fulci, The New York Ripper is a great film to investigate after this. It’s also a great date movie (although that probably says more about me than anything else…)
I first came across Beryl Reid when I was a child. She starred in the kids programme Get Up and Go and appeared regularly on Blankety Blank. I knew nothing of her penchant for starring in brilliant examples of cult cinema. But as my love of all things cult and horror developed I got to see some of the best examples of her work within these genres.
The first of her cinematic endeavours that I saw was the very risque The Killing of Sister George (1968). This was shown one late night on Tyne Tees Television and as soon as I saw the scene involving George getting into a cab that two nuns were already occupying I knew that this was strange cargo and also quite brilliant.
One of the earliest British gay-themed films ever made, this tells the tale of June ‘George’ Buckridge, the soon to be eclipsed star on the TV soap opera Applehurst. We see her relationship with the Baby Doll-like Childie and also the interventions of television executive Mrs Crofts. But does Crofts have her own agenda?
This lesbian drama has the amazing tagline ‘The story of three consenting adults in the privacy of their own home’ which obviously mimics the mantra of liberals and homophobes alike regarding ‘the gays’. It’s also a reference to the wording of The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalising homosexuality.
There’s something aesthetically pleasing about Beryl Reid in all of the films and TV programmes I’ve seen her in. This film is no exception. She plays George and she dominates proceedings whenever she is on screen. Her character is irreverent, rambunctious and a sheer delight. She’s ‘punk’ years before the punk movement actually erupted. Also, notice how she plays her rebellious character to perfection and got under the skin of George. This is very evident in her body language. No unconscious crossing of the legs or keeping them together when she sits down. She can manspread with the best of them. This is a headstrong woman who lives life on her own terms rather than conforming to societal norms regarding how a ‘lady’ should act.
A primary theme of the film is the power play within the character’s relationships. This is nicely shown in the ‘contrition game’ scene in which rather than being degraded by George’s task, Childie makes herself enjoy it thus taking away the power from George and being in control herself.
The film depicts it’s characters like human beings with all of their foibles rather than as freaks in a sideshow to be leered and grimaced at by ‘them there normal folks’. The film prompts a new discussion on societal perceptions of gay people in a Britain in which homosexuality had just been decriminalised (this was carried out in 1967- the year before this film was released).
The next film of Reid’s that was noteworthy for cult film fans was The Beast in the Cellar (1970).
Some kind of animal is attacking and killing the military at a nearby army base. A couple of sisters who live in the neighbourhood fear that it’s actually their brother Steven who is locked in the basement of their house who is actually responsible for the attacks.
This is a fantastic slice of horror by the British studio Tigon who were responsible for so many brilliant exploitation movies of the era. There is a prevailing atmosphere of quiet dread that builds throughout the film with the genteel and quaint lives of the sisters hiding their dreadful secret regarding their brother and his backstory. The film explains this near the end of the movie- Steven was violently maltreated by his father after his shellshocked return from the First World War. When their parents both pass away, the sisters didn’t want their brother to become the vile man that their father became and so to make sure he isn’t called up for the Second World War they hide him in the cellar and keep him drugged (via his water supply) so that he is sedated and controllable. After the physical beatings by his father and after being locked up for so long, Steven has become feral and akin to some kind of wild madman with a hatred for the male members of the military whom he associates with his father.
There are some very good performances within the film but it’s Reid’s that shines the brightest and makes the film truly special. As Ellie, the sister who seemingly hasn’t progressed from when she was a child, she sinks into the character eerily well. From the scenes in which she reminisces about her father and the details regarding her family, it feels like you are watching a child instead of an adult. This works very well as it elicit’s a warmth from the audience regarding the character with a sense that the sisters carried out an extraordinary act in exceptional circumstances.
Theres also the theme of a dark family secret being hidden from view by the facade of the two ‘respectable’ spinster sisters that the film explores well. You’d never guess by the appearance of the women that they committed such a terrible thing to their brother.
These ingredients make for a very enjoyable film indeed.
The most far-out and trippy of Mr Reid’s excursions into all things cult was Psychomania from 1973. In this film she plays Mrs Latham, the seance holding mother of the leader of a biker gang called The Living Dead(!) She holds the secret to how people can come back to life after they have willingly killed themselves and tells her son how to accomplish this which he does. He then passes on this knowledge to the other members of his gang who one-by-one take their own lives so they can come back and live forever.
This film can be seen to capitalise on several different film genres that were popular at the time- horror films, biker movies and also the kind of unreal entertainment for stoners to watch whilst they were off their bonces. This film can also be seen as genuinely countercultural.
There are many nods to an anti-authority sensibility within Psychomania with a scene in which the gang members are helped to escape from cells in which they are being held. The concept of ‘normality’ and the whole notion of domesticity also come in for a battering within the film. There are sequences in which we see the bikers terrorising locals in what looks like a New Town concrete open-air shopping centre. There is even a scene in which they ride through a supermarket whilst gleefully trashing it and running over shoppers.
And this is another reason why it was truly brave for a star like Reid to choose to star in such fare. Whilst other esteemed actors would only have starred in such a film if their career was on the skids, Reid didn’t look down her nose at this type of entertainment. Indeed, she accepted roles in these kind of films and performed them with such zeal that it’s obvious she loved these quirky additions to her filmography. This reminds me of other actors who did this like Vincent Price and Donald Pleasance.
History judges all art and history has judged this film very well indeed. Even the BFI issued it on Blu ray a few years ago which just goes to show how cherished it is in terms of British cinema. It’s ironic that such an outsider piece of popular culture should now be embraced by the cultural elite. But don’t let that put you off.
A fantastic time capsule of a movie with beautiful cinematography and is a daring depiction of a grisly topic (suicide) that is handled both darkly and humourously. Oh, and it has a soundtrack to die for.
These are just a few of the brilliantly entries in Beryl Reid’s oeuvre. And there are plenty of others with her starring in a film adaptation of Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane, her recording of an album of music hall songs (really) and, of course, Get Up and Go which featured a cat from the moon. And that’s why we salute her brilliance.
For the longest time I didn’t get around to seeing Pieces. Just like the movie Madman, I had seen the poster and video artwork numerous times but hadn’t got around to actually investigating the film.
But rather than being the average cookie-cutter slasher movie that I imagined it to be, it was a different beast altogether.
J. Piquer Simon’s shocker of a movie is actually a Spanish/American/Puerto Rican production with Valencia in Spain being used instead of Boston where the film is based.
Right from the opening scene we get to see how crazy, extreme and violent this film is going to be. We see a young boy putting together a jigsaw. This is seen by his mother who smiles until she sees what the jigsaw is actually of- a naked woman. She scolds and strikes the child whilst demanding that he brings some bin bags for her as she is going to burn everything he owns. She then starts going on a hunt to see if her young pervert of a son has any other filth stashed anywhere else.
Before she can find anything though she is struck in the head by her young son who has found an axe rather than disposal bags. With Mother safely disposed of the young boy then deflects away from the fact that he was the one to have dismembered Mama by being found crying and whimpering for his mother in a closet by the police who have been called to suggest that he was hiding whilst his mother was being axed to death by someone else. It works.
And this is only the film’s opening scene. It then flashes forward forty years with the action happening on a university campus. Someone is killing students but who could it be?
We see the killer wearing a fantastic Giallo-esque disguise which perfectly covers his identity therefore providing us with another Giallo trope- the whodunnit. Who could the killer be? Thankfully we’re provided with possible candidates and possible red herrings. The film does this with relish with one shot involving the campus gardener Willard lovingly cleaning his chainsaw.
There are so many reasons to love this film whether it’s the kills (the hint is in the film’s tagline ‘You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!’ Whereas TCM actually cut away from the camera seeing the murders, this camera in Pieces sticks around so that the audience gets their money’s worth. The murders seem to have been dreamt up in a pre-production brainstorming session. I can imagine the makers of Pieces proclaiming ‘What would happen if someone with a chainsaw got into a lift with a victim. Or what if a girl is rollerskating but then runs into a full length mirror?!’), the VERY quotable one-liners that beggar belief (‘The most beautiful in the world is smoking pot whilst fucking on a waterbed!’) right through to the sequences that are so over-ripe and overly dramatic that they are ensured a place in the hearts of the most ardent horror fan (one such sequence is the ‘Bastard’ scene that is so unbelievable that once it’s seen it can never be unseen. I think of this scene as my message to the world).
Pieces is the gift that just keeps on giving. A stone-cold classic.
Hooray for Facebook. I was browsing pages devoted to cult cinema as I’m prone to do during my downtime and I saw a post about the Giallo gem, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times and realised that I had never seen it. And lo and behold it was on YouTube in both Italian or badly dubbed English.
This film concerns two sisters, one good, one evil. Their spacious abode has a very disturbing painting on the wall that evidently influences the black haired evil child, Evelyn to act terribly towards her blond haired more rational sister, Kitty. The artwork has a backstory- the evil Red Queen depicted in the picture was killed by her sister but the murdered then rises from the grave and becomes murderer, killing seven people linked to her death.
A brilliantly funny sequence during the film’s opening credits shows that the teasing of Kitty by Evelyn continues throughout their childhood. The teasing carries on into adulthood. But during one incident Kitty accidentally kills Evelyn.
Real life seems to imitate art however when a figure dressed in a red cloak appears and starts to murder those connected to Kitty in gruesome ways. Who could this person be? Is it really Evelyn who has risen from the grave?
This is classic Giallo with gorgeous direction, innovative and VERY gory kills and style oozing out of every frame. Listen for the fantastic cackle the Red Queen gives after each murder as she relishes her evil deeds. She reminds me of Tura Satana in Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! who used to laugh loudly after doing something reckless and thrilling.
The film is also sleazy as hell. This is one of the things about Giallo that I love the most- the impeccable interiors, perfect hair and make-up, the gorgeous aesthetics. In short, stylisations that are in stark contrast to the messy dabblings of the main characters.
Theres a wonderful Scooby Doo moment near the end with a mask being pulled off to reveal a true identity (not the caretaker in this instance) and massive plot points being spat out faster than a snitch giving evidence. One of the final scenes does for rats what Jaws did for sharks. It’s fantastically gross.
The use of the colour red evokes the horror masterpiece Don’t Look Now which was made the year after this film. Had Nic Roeg seen this brilliant film prior to making it?
This film is great fun. And has a soundtrack to die for (no pun intended). I look forward to buying the Arrow Blu ray.
A newly wed couple stay at a spawling and very beautiful old hotel in Ostend, Belgium. Stefan has married Valerie without telling his mother and so Valerie is keen for him to call to inform her of their union.
A couple of women arrive at the hotel- the very glamorous Elizabeth and her younger companion Ilona. They seem beguiled and utterly captivated by Valerie and Stefan. And so the character’s paths meet in what turns out to be a fantastic updating of the vampire genre.
Lesbian chic was popular in vampire movies in the 70’s and Daughters of Darkness is a worthy example of this. It’s quickly established that Elizabeth and her companion are more than just friends but this point isn’t laboured and is still somewhat shrouded in mystery. In fact, there are plenty of narrative strands within the film that are just as enigmatic and not needlessly over-explained. This is something that I love as it grants the audience with a modicum of intelligence and forces viewers to make up their own minds regarding backstory and context. As we have seen from newer horror films, especially the prequels made for classic horror films, over-explanation kills mystery and the horror element of these films. What made Leatherface the way he is? Who cares especially if the film sucks!
Another example of this mystery occurs when we see Stefan finally call his mother. ‘Mother’ turns out to be a very effeminate homosexual man not unlike a more sinister version of Quentin Crisp. ‘Mother’ isn’t happy about the marriage and lets Stefan know this. In fact, this episode in the film makes us ponder who Mother really is, his relationship to Stefan, Stefan’s true sexuality and in fact, why Stefan has married Valerie in the first place. Did the shifty and malignant character of Stefan have his own agenda and intentions in his recent marriage, just as Elizabeth and Ilona have their own agenda?
Stefan’s call to his ‘Mother’ instantly triggers a violent and angry reaction from his as he starts to beat his new wife with a belt in a shocking outburst of violence. We see that he is capable of these outbursts as he is of lying and other underhand behaviour (we witness the note he passes to the concierge regarding an earlier phone call to his mother which he doesn’t want to make yet).
The vampiric murders occurring in Ostend lend a chilling backdrop to the proceedings in the hotel. This reminds me of the murders that take place in Venice that are secondary to the main narrative in the film Don’t Look Now. This device works so well within the horror genre.
The use of the colour red in Daughters of Darkness also reminds me of the use of the same colour in Don’t Look Now, in particular the little girl’s coat. In Kumel’s film the blood looks like aesthetically pleasing red paint and is redder than red just like in the pop art masterpiece that would come later, Dawn of the Dead. The lips of both Elizabeth and Ilona are also both painted the same shade of red.
The detective who is constantly on the edge of proceedings reminds me of Kinderman in The Exorcist and brings out the detective element which was so prevalent in Giallo films. The ‘whodunnit’ element was a key element of the original crime novels with yellow pages of which the Giallo film genre is primarily based on.
The film features stunning direction by Harry Kumel, haunting photography and uniformly stunning performances.
But theres one performance that deserves special recognition and that is of Elizabeth by Delphine Seyrig. I don’t think I’ve seen such a well rounded, bewitching and captivating turn in any other horror movie. She is utterly believeable as Bathory- alluring, seductive and every other divine quality that the character would need to entice in her prey.
As if that wasn’t enough she has a wardrobe that is three parts Marlene Dietrich and one part Siouxsie Sioux (Kumel has mentioned that he modelled the character on Dietrich and Ilona on Louise Brooks, a perfect pair of influences). Seyrig is one of the most divine creatures to have ever graced the screen.
When I first saw Daughters of Darkness in the 80’s on Channel 4 here in the UK, I couldn’t believe how perfect the film was. On revisiting it I’m left with the same feeling. Impeccable.
I first heard of this Yuletide horror flick as John Waters spoke about it as being his favourite seasonal cinematic shocker. With such high praise from The Prince of Puke I later heard it was being shown at a local cinema in Sydney, Australia where I lived for a year (it was actually shown as part of a double bill with Black Christmas which is possibly the greatest duo of films I’ve ever seen on the big screen).
This film was also seized during the raids on video shops that happened in the UK during the video nasties furore. After it was seized it was then banned by the BBFC. Hence, why I wasn’t allowed by the powers that be to see this masterpiece in the 80’s.
The film centres around Harry Stadling who we see first as a child as he sees Santa pleasuring his mother. After seeing Old Nick being so naughty he goes upstairs and self harms with a broken ornament from a Christmas tree.
The film then flashes forward to Harry as an adult working in a local toy factory. He seems to be completely obsessed by Santa Claus and even dresses like him, sleeps in his outfit and orientates his whole being towards becoming him. We even see him applying way too much shaving foam to his face so that it resembles a white beard to make the likeness even more apparent. He has also starts to make notes regarding the neighbourhood children as to who has been ‘good’ or ‘bad’ whilst jotting down examples of why he has arrived at his decision.
Harry is told by his boss that the factory will donate toys to children at a local hospital but only if production at the factory increases and employees chip in with their own money. This angers Harry who sees this as an indication that his boss only cares about production rather than genuinely caring for the local unfortunate kids.
Harry’s Santaphilia reaches new heights on Christmas Evil when he seems to truly believe that he is Father Christmas. He starts to travel around in his equivalent of a reindeer led sleigh- a van with a picture of a sleigh on the side of it. He creeps into his brother’s house and leaves bags of presents for his nephews and then leaves a bag of dirt to one of the other neighbourhood children he has noted down as being ‘bad’.
After he is mocked by three men who are leaving church, he stabs one of the men in the eye with a sharpened Christmas ornament and then kills all three with an axe. After then entertaining people at a local Christmas party who mistake for just some harmless Santa impersonator and after telling the kids present that they should be good, he breaks into his co-worker Frank’s house (who we saw earlier in the film after he asked to swap shifts with Harry so he could be with his family only to be then spotted by Harry in a local bar drinking with his pals much to Harry’s chagrin) and murders him but not before leaving toys for his kids.
To tell you much more would ruin the film for everyone and disclose some genuinely unexpected and quite brilliant twists. Without giving too much away I love the fact that even though he’s a murderous Santa, the neighbourhood’s kids protect him from an angry mob who have formed to capture or even kill him. The kids will save Santa even he is to Christmas what Michael Myers is to Halloween.
The final scene will fully ignite the magic of the Yuletide season in your soul. Seriously! Did Steven Spielberg steal it for possibly the most iconic scene of E.T? Quite possibly. I’ll take this movie over Spielberg’s saccharine family favourite any day though.
A genuine oddity and a film unlike any other, Christmas Evil was worth the wait for me and John Waters is completely justified to have taken this to his heart. Perfectly acted, beautifully photographed and with some fantastic insights regarding ‘this most wonderful time of the year’. These include those who are permitted to buy into the whole illusion of Christmas whilst others aren’t, the vileness of capitalism masquerading as being caring and charitable (but only if production is increased) and how in-crowds and groups judge others as ‘one of us’ or not.
Waters said that if he had kids (and that would be quite something) he would sit down and watch this seasonal shocker with them every year. And if they didn’t like it they would be PUNISHED! That’s fair enough in my book.
I remember one summer when my family was on holiday at my aunt’s house in Stoke on Trent my father took us to what appeared to be a disused reservoir within a park. He explained that under the grate he showed us a young woman was once held for ransom. Her name was Lesley Whittle and Donald Neilson, her abductor had left her tied up in this underground hell completely naked except for a hood over her head and a noose made of wire around her neck which would kill her if she tried to escape. She wasn’t found in time and so died after Neilson didn’t get the ransom he demanded. Yes, this was just an average day out for my family.
The criminal who carried out this was nicknamed in the press ‘The Black Panther’. After carrying out a series of armed robberies at post offices, he set about the abduction of Whittle so that he could demand a hefty ransom and reap more lucrative rewards.
A couple of years after this kidnapping happened a film was made of these events. It was felt in the media that this was too soon and certain censorious channels sought to prevent the film being shown at cinemas throughout the UK. How this was achieved was by pressure being placed on local authorities who in those days had a lot of power regarding films being shown. The BBFC could make a decision on a film and whether it should be left uncut, censored and banned outright but then the film was at the mercy of local authorities and councils as to whether the film would be aired in their respective boroughs.
This is what happened with The Black Panther and why it was as good as suppressed in the UK. The TV show Tonight were part of this campaign to prevent the film playing with the show’s host Sue Lawley dubbing it a ‘sick film’ even though she hadn’t seen it.
The film resurfaced in the 80’s on VHS but aside from that remained buried as it were (pun not intended). That’s until the BFI restored the film a few years ago and issued it on Blu ray.
So is this film really some kind of hidden gem worthy of rediscovery? In a word- YES! It’s a bleak account of a psychopathic man embarking a life using his lack of conscience to try to get rich quick after leaving the forces. In fact his time in the army is looked back on by Neilson through rose tinted spectacles as he reminisces about it but also brings that past into his present as he struts around in his attic in his old uniform reliving his glory days. He even lives in the wild as if on an army retreat for days at a time whilst he plans his crimes- firstly, the robbery of the post office substations and then the kidnapping of Whittle. We see him use his training at home also again in his attic/office to plan these projects with military precision.
The Black Panther is just like it’s main character in that it’s completely cold, emotionless and detached. This may sound like some kind of criticism but it works brilliantly well. This is the film equivalent of the objective and fact based kind of crime reportage used with no editorialising whatsoever. Even the screen captions to denote dates and places is done so by utilising the font of a typewriter to denote the fact-based reporting of facts. In fact the film brings to mind the reconstructions that were part of the true crime TV show Crimewatch UK, especially the ones featured in the earlier series that were shot on film.
It’s also interesting to see an emotionless character like Neilson operating in the real world and with other people who possess the empathy chip even though he doesn’t. The scenes of him at home with his wife and family are darkly entertaining and sometimes downright shocking. He expects his wife to be little more than a hausfrau who serves him and him alone. He barks his disapproval at every turn and over the most mundane things that can’t be controlled (we see throughout the film that Neilson wants control over everything in his life but life doesn’t work like that. Each of his robberies are besieged and altered from running smoothly by factors that are beyond his control). One example is when he doesn’t even look at his wife but raises his tea mug to let her now that he wants it to be filled again. After she dutifully does this he then takes a sip and screams that the tea is ‘too hot!’
There also another very perceptive insight into his home life as we see his teenaged daughter ask if she can go out to see friends. He says no and explains that she will spend money whilst she’s out and that it’s better to save instead for a rainy day. His daughter then whispers to her mother that her father has said no and they both look dejected. This doesn’t last long through. Neilson announces that he will be away for two weeks on another job (he says he’s going away to work on projects like house renovations when he is in fact embarking on his army style manoeuvres). We see a sly smile spread across his daughter’s face at the news as she exchanges very knowing glances with her mother as if to say ‘Hooray! He’s out of our hair for a while!’
The film also acts as a snapshot of what life was really like in 1977. The red phone boxes the killer uses, the thoroughly ugly headboards and brown pyjama sets worn by the sub postmasters when they are rudely awoken in the middle of the night by Neilson robbing their business. The film also shows how terrifying it must have been to be woken up by a man in a blood hood brandishing a sown off shotgun in your face.
The BFI have done a great job with the Blu ray for the film as it looks and sounds amazing. There are also exhaustive liner notes from director Ian Merrick as to the curious history of the film, it’s unwarranted suppression and it’s re-emergence on Blu ray. There are also a wealth of extras such as short films and raw footage shot when locations were being sought for the film.
The Black Panther can now be seen for what it always was- an outstanding true crime film that was ahead of it’s time.