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.
The eagle-eyed will also see Terry Sue Patt aka Benny Green from Grange Hill as one of the kids.
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.
What would happen if nuclear war actually broke out? What would that look like?
If you’ve ever asked these questions, fear no more! Threads was made in 1984 for UK television and shows exactly what life would be like after the bomb dropped.
Written by Barry Hines (Kes) and directed by Mick Jackson this drama sent shockwaves (pun not intended) across the UK when it was transmitted.
The action takes place in Sheffield and follows a core of characters and how they fare before, during and after nuclear war breaks out.
This is one of the toughest watches I’ve ever endured but is executed brilliantly with the full horror being captured with the action never slipping into melodrama or amateur dramatics.
I watched this recently with a friend. Events got so dark that I mentioned that it must be over soon as it couldn’t get any darker or more dystopic. I discovered that we were only halfway through our journey into hell. And yes, it could and did get a lot darker! Wait until the end for one of the most shocking endings EVER!
This is all of the Protect and Survive pamphlets and Public Information Films becoming a reality rather than just being a sample in a Frankie Goes To Hollywood song. It’s horrifying stuff.
If you want to watch the devastation in HD, there’s a Blu Ray issued by Simply Media here in the UK which utilises the BBC’s original negative which wasn’t the source for Severin’s U.S. Blu Ray and it shows! The UK Blu Ray is infinitely better and the one to buy. Dystopia has never been this detailed or chilling before.
And you thought the 80s were all Rubik’s Cubes and Club Tropicana by Wham! Think again. This is one of the most powerful and brilliant pieces of television ever produced.
It’s extremely brave to decide to make a sequel to a beloved horror classic. It can almost feel like some kind of suicide mission as critics and the general public alike will trot out the hackneyed old cliche of ‘It’s not as good as the first film!’ as if this is an extremely original and perceptive line of criticism to extol.
If you do decide to make said sequel there are several routes you can take when doing this. You can either try to recreate the tone and feel of the original (Halloween 2 is an example of this and a very good sequel). You can try to make a film that has a tone and atmosphere all of it’s own whilst setting the action years ahead of the events of the original film (for example, Psycho 2 is an excellent film). Then you can make a film that is completely out there and batshit crazy. The ‘made for TV sequel’ to Rosemary’s Baby, the masterpiece made by Roman Polanski in 1968, goes down this route. It’s not often that whilst I watch a film I have a smile permanently etched onto my face at the sheer insanity I’m watching on the screen and that after the film has ended I have to take a few moments to reacclimatise myself to everyday life again whilst thinking ‘What the fuck was that?!’ And I mean that in the best possible sense.
I will try to summarise the madness contained within this gem’s plot. I don’t normally like to give detailed and ‘scene by scene’ plot outlines in my reviews but what you will read speaks for itself and sells the film perfectly.
The film starts with a voice-over précis of the final events of the original but with the voices of the new actors in this production (only one actor returns from the original film and thankfully it’s Ruth Gordon who is as brilliant in this movie). In this scene Rosemary (now played by Patty Duke) discovers the baby she has given birth to but has been swiftly taken away from her. Rosemary looks at him and expresses horror at his eyes. Obviously, the dialogue here is different and not as impactful as the original.
The first part of the film is called The Book of Rosemary and concerns her taking her son (called Adrian by the Satanic coven we know and love from the original but called Andrew by her to try and distance him from the role the coven think he’s destined to live) away from the clutches of the coven and running away. She seeks refuge in a synagogue knowing that if she is in a house of God then the coven can’t harm her in any way. It’s here that we see her press a crucifix on a chain into her son’s chest only for her to later see with horror that it has seared an imprint into his skin. We then see Rosemary the next day at a bus stop making a call to her famous actor ex-husband Guy (now played by George Maharis). As she speaks to him a group of children start to taunt Adrian/Andrew and take his toy car from him. In return he turns all full-on Satan on them and they fall to the ground unconscious. A random stranger Marjean has seen the whole incident and hides Rosemary and her son in her trailer. Marjean then offers to help Rosemary and her son to get onto a bus to escape. But whilst Rosemary boards the bus, the bus doors close and it rides off with her trapped on it whilst Marjean is at the roadside with Adrian/Andrew in her arms. It becomes apparent that Marjean is in fact a follower of the coven and this was planned all along. Rosemary goes to speak to the driver of the bus but it’s then revealed that there is no driver on the bus. And this is the first act of the film! Crazy doesn’t describe it!
The second part of the film is called The Book of Adrian. It’s more than 20 years later. We see Andrew/Adrian get pulled over for speeding. He later goes to a casino/nightclub that Marjean runs (described by him as his Aunt) who is alarmed by his apparently wild behaviour. She then refers to his parents as being killed in a car crash. We then see Adrian/Andrew’s demonic side come to the fore as he tries to run over a biker gang. Minnie and Roman (the wonderful Gordon and Ray Millard) turn up to the casino to see Andrew/Adrian and ask him to drink one of Minnie’s concoctions (echoes here of the chocolate mousse and ‘health drink’ from the original film) and when he falls unconscious they paint him in demonic warpaint.
It’s here that I will leave the plot synopsis alone as to reveal anymore would impact on the viewers experience on watching this TV movie for the first time (just to add that there is a third act to the film called The Book of Andrew). Theres a musical interlude within this second segment where we see a far-out rock band at the casino get stage invaded by Andrew/Adrian. It’s one of the freakiest scenes of the whole movie and thats really saying something!
There are never any troughs in this movie. It starts at weirdness level 11 and continues at that level until the climax.
I’m so glad that this sequel was made in the hedonistic, narcotically charged 70’s as the full unbridled eccentricity of the movie could be shot with no holds barred by filmmakers who were clearly heavily medicated. Add to the mental shenanigans a brilliant darkly psychedelic soundtrack by the ever great Charles Bernstein and you have a rollicking great time. There is also some impressive cinematography that is some of the best I’ve seen in a TV movie. In fact, I love the idea of some Average Joe at home in his 70’s American home watching this be accident. I actually think it enriched and expanded minds.
I’m so glad that this movie was made and that comes from a massive fan of the original film. If you love mental cinema, watch this. In fact, watch this back to back with the Exorcist 2: The Heretic.
I saw this on YouTube in a transfer from a very poor VHS tape. With Scream Factory releasing horror TV movies on Blu ray nowadays I hope to God (pun not intended) that they unleash this. A great transfer using a pristine print would be something to behold. This film deserves it.
This early Spielberg directed TV movie features a TV advertising exec (Darren McGavin) move into a country farm with his hippy drippy New Age wife (Sandy Dennis). But strange things start to occur shortly afterwards.
I first saw this when it aired on UK television in the early 80’s. It scared the pants off me. Is it still scary to a cynical old man of 44?
The simple answer is YES! It still packs a punch and the tone and direction are flawless.
Theres a creeping, building sense of malevolence that runs through the whole movie that is palpable and builds to a genuinely terrifying ending.
I love the fact that Spielberg gently sends up the fashionable pop-psychology and oh so self aware mysticism that was so hip in the 70’s.
There are plenty of scares to be had- the sound of a child crying at night, the demonic jam-jars (yes, really) that are discovered in the barn, the presence of something genuinely malevolent in the house that changes not only the young son but Mrs ‘Move To The Country’ herself as in one scene we see her beat her son for disobeying her orders.
This is wayyy too unsettling for what should have been a pretty bland and pedestrian romp made for network television. Spielberg was obviously on a roll when he directed this as he had just made the masterpiece Duel.
I hope whatever limbo this title is in disappears so that we get a great Blu ray release sometime soon.
When I was growing up I loved the Nanny State Public Information Films. They were akin to state produced horror shorts extolling the dangers of everything from playing near rivers to mixing different types of tyres on the same vehicle.
Beware The Rapist is an American PIF (called Public Service Announcements or PSA’s over there) made in 1979. Produced at the height of some of the most prolific serial killers being at large (Ted Bundy is obviously the inspiration for the preppy looking Christmas card salesman, the balaclava wearing perverts could easily be based on The Golden State Killer) this film offers common sense advice to vulnerable women so that they come to no harm.
This advice sometimes comes across as extreme (‘once you get home, lock yourself in!’) but this is shown to be better than becoming another victim. This film holds up a mirror to society at that time and the ghoulish events happening with shocking regularity. But it also reflects the somewhat doom-laden advice from American authorities. Protect yourself- or else!
This is a treat for horror and exploitation fans. Gritty, nerve-jangling and based on fact. Truth is stranger- and more brutal- than fiction.
Beware The Rapist depicts many different scenarios and locales that can suddenly turn nightmarish. Every setting is here- the laundry room, in the supposed safety of one’s car, the late night walk home. In many ways this film reminds me of the ‘urban horror’ situations depicted in the opening credits of the mid-80’s crime series The Equalizer.
The music used is library based. The same library music used for Dawn of the Dead or the genius Australian women’s prison drama Prisoner Cell Block H. And if that isn’t enough of a recommendation then what is?
Sunday nights in the late 70’s/early 80’s here in the UK were great for TV. In my household we’d religiously watch That’s Life, a weird hotchpotch of hard hitting investigations into very dark subject matters with lighter fare which was designed to make the audience titter and guffaw (they loved vegetables that just happened to be shaped like genitalia). Going from a hard-hitting expose to a carrot shaped like a penis was sometimes very inappropriate but it worked somehow. This was all presided over by the ultra-camp Esther Rantzen (sometimes wearing a mumu).
After that was The Professionals, a very masculine (and thus, very camp) crime/action series tellingly made by the same company who made The New Avengers. These have now been reissued on Blu ray and are well worth seeking out. I fancied Lewis Collins like crazy.
Last, but certainly not least, there was Tales of the Unexpected. This gem of a series told a different story every week and each episode was introduced by Roald Dahl. You may have heard of Dahl as the writer of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Matilda and other classic children’s books. But he also wrote short stories for adults, many of which were very dark and had a twist in the tail. And that’s precisely what this series was based on. Most episodes were written by Dahl but not all. He introduced each episode from what appeared to be his favourite comfy chair in front of a roaring fire. His introductions were just as brilliant as the stories themselves. And these tales were executed (pardon the pun) very well indeed- in fact, a bit too well.
This programme was the last thing I saw every Sunday night before going to bed. I remember not sleeping most Sunday nights because of this and Mondays at school being very tiring affairs.
A number of the episodes of Tales of the Unexpected have stayed with me as they terrified me as a child. I bought a boxset containing all of the episodes recently and can report that they still terrify me.
The opening credit sequence was enough to have me cowering behind the sofa. Creepy organ and saxophone music that sounded like the ultimate in sleaze and menace. Over this were images of silhouetted dancing naked women, guns, lion-like gargoyle faces, tarot cards and skulls. Nothing traumatising there for a 5 year old boy. The woman dancing in front of the flames was later referenced in the video for Cities In Dust by Siouxsie and the Banshees (as if Siouxsie couldn’t be cooler- she then shows she’s a fan of this TV programme).
I’ll recommend the two episodes that freaked me out the most. Firstly, theres The Flypaper written by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that one). A schoolgirl who doesn’t feel like she fits in is preoccupied with other stuff going in her life when she quickly comprehends that the accidental stranger on her bus in fact being a bit too over-friendly and overfamiliar with her. She decides to get off the bus to try to get away from him. And that’s all I’m telling! When this was transmitted here in the UK it seemed like kids were going missing every other week. This grim tale reflected what was going on in society at that time all too well.
The second is Galloping Foxley. A man on a train recognises the bully who regularly beat and humiliated him at boarding school. The young Foxley is played by the always brilliant Jonathan Scott-Taylor from Damian: Omen 2. I went to private school myself after passing an exam which was designed to allow poorer families to send their ‘academically gifted’ children there without having to pay the hefty fees. Whilst I experienced no bullying or brutality from my fellow peers, I did very quickly pick up on how oppressive the actual system was, the teachers especially. I started within this system in 1986- the same year that corporal punishment was outlawed in all schools in the UK. My timing was impeccable! I could see that the angriest teachers hated this decision and would rather have been inflicting some kind of painful punishment out on us for some real, imagined or fabricated misdemeanour. Friends have told me about when they went to school in the days of such physical punishment and were themselves beaten. One friend tells me of his time at a strict Catholic school where they were beaten with a studded leather strap. If they didn’t say ‘thank you’ after their beatings they would be beaten some more.
To me the best horror comes from the unembellished factual accounts from people’s lives. Truth is stranger than fiction. And sometimes a lot more warped and fucked up.
Please peruse these two episodes but proceed with caution. They aren’t for the fainthearted. For more episodes click here.
Exactly 30 years ago today, something extraordinary happened. Let me elaborate. I grew up in York in the UK. My local TV station was Yorkshire Television who were the first UK regional station to transmit twenty-four hours a day. Because of this during the night and early hours of the morning, they would show some of the most eclectic fare imaginable. One night they might show Spawn of the Slithis, another they might show a Warhol movie, the night after it might be a series of rare Scorsese short films. In between whatever they showed they would transmit 70’s and 80’s Public Information Films and ads for sex lines.
It’s Monday 3rd Oct 1988. I forget what I was recording on my VCR but it was what was after it that made my jaw hit the floor. I was suddenly watching a late 70’s/early 80’s drama depicting Australian women in denim serving time in a Melbourne prison. The programme was, of course, Prisoner Cell Block H, a programme that I had seen listed plenty of times but never thought of taping to investigate. For a fan of exploitation cinema and cult movies, the discovery of this programme was the equivalent of hitting the jackpot. This was also my first taste of ‘Ozploitation’.
This first episode that I watched was (I later found out) episode number 125. This was a great point in the whole trajectory of Prisoner’s history to start watching the series. At this point Prisoner had just entered its ‘Imperial Phase’- characters had been clearly defined and established, there was a firm nucleus of these characters who the audience recognised and had grown to love. Hence there were viewer’s favourite prisoners (Bea, Lizzie, Dor and relative newcomer, Judy) and favourite ‘screws’ even if some of them weren’t ‘goodies’ (Vera ‘Vinegar Tits’ Bennett is far from a pleasant character but audiences loved her being vile and sour just as much as they did fellow officer Meg Morris being all ‘sweetness and light’). These characters were eagerly watched by viewers as they moved through different situations and encountered opposition from various characters who entered their orbit.
This was also a great episode to act as an introduction as it featured one of Prisoner’s greatest characters- Noeline Burke. Burke was the perfect combination of expert writing and amazing acting colliding with this incredible character being brought to life with real gusto by actress Jude Kuring.
I started to watch every episode after this. I had my fingers crossed that this first episode that I had recorded by mistake wasn’t some kind of fluke. I was relieved to find out that it wasn’t. Every episode was consistently brilliant. The characters were hugely likeable, the dialogue crackled with electricity and the storylines were by turns intelligent, perceptive, daring and sometimes downright outrageous. I was looking for sex, violence and gritty fare. I had found the motherlode in Prisoner Cell Block H.
Yorkshire TV’s history of showing Prisoner (as it was called in Australia) was very good. They were the first UK regional TV station to show the programme in the UK.
They had started showing it in 1984 when the programme was still being made and shown in Australia (it ran from 1979 until 1986 in Oz).
My friend who I had grown up with had actually told me about seeing the first episode when it was first shown and gleefully regaled the plotline to me involving the ‘baby that was buried alive and found by tracker dogs just in time’.
After watching Prisoner for several months on Yorkshire TV I suddenly had a brainwave- what if other regions had started showing Prisoner from different time points. One region could have just started showing it from the very beginning whilst another might be up to a later point in the programme’s history. I had another TV aerial which allowed me to watch programmes on another regional station (Tyne Tees). I found out that they showed Prisoner on a Thursday as opposed to the Monday in Yorkshire. When I tuned in I was astounded to find out that they were showing episode 30 and so I had the luxury of almost starting from the beginning of the programme’s history.
In no time Prisoner was starting to gain popularity as seemingly everyone from students (Prisoner regularly featured in the NME end-of-year Reader’s Poll in the Best Programme category) to OAPs started to religiously tune in every week. There were estimates that weekly viewing figures for the programme in the UK ranged from anywhere between 3 to 10 million. When shown in America it had primetime viewing figures of 39 million.
But there were still those who didn’t get the programme and just saw it as cheap trash. They probably came to see Prisoner after hearing that it was another Aussie soap and so surmised that maybe it would be like Neighbours and Home and Away. Rumours of wobbly walls started around this time. Which is very strange as Prisoner was filmed in the headquarters for Channel 9, the company that made it in Australia. And for what it’s worth, I’ve watched Prisoner in its entirety several times. It may have been rushed in places (and these occasions were few and far between) but Prisoner was shown twice a week in Oz- that’s two hours of telly to be made and so the cast and crew never had the luxury of multiple takes and plenty of time to shoot these in.
Also, if you watch other soaps from this time period you will see similar techniques, imperfections and production practices at play. I’ve seen shaking sets and moving bannisters/staircases in Coronation Street before. But then maybe this is why Prisoner was criticised as sub-par or cheap in the early days of it being shown on ITV- it’s Australian and maybe this was pure snobbery on the parts of the minority of British critics and viewers who didn’t like it. The same criticisms would never have been levelled against home-grown fare.
To understand Prisoner and enjoy it is not just to recognise the conventions of the ‘Women in Prison’ sub-genre but also to understand ‘cult’ viewing in the first place. Prisoner is so sophisticated that it can fit into multiple categories with their own viewing demographics all at once- soap opera, drama, exploitation vehicle with heightened storylines and a pessimism/realism not seen on many other TV programmes at that time.
Another great thing about Yorkshire TV showing Prisoner before any other region was that they didn’t think to check the programme’s content. When word spread that there were some scenes or storylines that were close to the bone and needed to be possibly cut, they had already been shown on Yorkshire and devoured by yours truly. Hangings, decapitations, brandings, shootings- they all featured and in many cases in graphic detail.
Even 30 years on Prisoner Cell Block H is still my favourite TV show. Do yourself a favour- if you’re a fan of all things exploitation, ‘cult’ and extreme watch Prisoner. You’ll be glad you did.
The DVDs of the series are as cheap as chips with all episodes being released.
The other half of a double-bill in UK cinemas with the other film being the far better The Incredible Melting Man. This was actually made for television in America.
Killer bees have flown into America and are claiming their first casualties disturbingly close to New Orleans when their Mardi Gras is due to kick off. A bee expert (of course) and a guy who isn’t quite a coroner yet (so he isn’t taken seriously) are on the case but come up against obstacles in the form of sniffy officials who don’t want to see Mardi Gras cancelled- at any cost (hints of Murray Hamilton’s character in Jaws here).
We learn that the bees don’t like noise and the colours black and red. The first human victim is a coloured girl in a red dress blowing a toy horn. Not her lucky day.
The finale involves Ms Bee Expert being nudged into a sports stadium in her red Beetle which the bees have covered as she was earlier using the horn near them (doh!). The temperature of the Super Dome is then lowered as the bees die when temperatures reach below 35 Degrees Fahrenheit. This sequence is very unexpected and works well with tension being ramped up as the temperatures come down (we see this on huge displays which show the actual countdown).
This is an above average TV movie which received a video release in some territories. There aren’t enough action sequences and some of the more talky bits are quite pedestrian. But when it gets going its quite exciting. Because I saw it on TV when I was a small child and loved it then it will always hold a special place in my little black heart.
Look out for the scene in which someone in fancy dress tries to take on the bees with a sword. Yes, a sword!
As some of you may know I’m a huge Prisoner Cell Block H fan. I actually think its the best TV series ever made. If you’re into cult film, cult TV or video nasties/exploitation cinema then chances are you’ll love Prisoner.
I’ve just made a video documenting some of the most outrageous moments from the series.
All the juicy stuff is present and correct- drugs, lynchings, murders and brandings. Theres even a sequence that will have you shaking your head in disbelief.
The videos here. But beware- its not for the faint hearted!