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approve of (the watershed was introduced because of her campaigning) and even pieces of poetry that didn’t meet her outdated moral standards (the publication Gay News was disbanded after she took them to court over a poem they published regarding Jesus and one of his foot-soldiers).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

Review- Clash of the Titans (1981)

Review- Clash of the Titans (1981)

I have a strange history with this film. As a 10 year old boy I had to have 6 (count em- 6!) teeth removed in one sitting with my dentist due to my mouth being ‘overcrowded’. As a treat after having these extractions (‘He made no noise whatsoever! I could have taken out his teeth all day!’ the dentist said to my Dad. My father looked suitably proud) I was taken to Granada TV Rentals to rent a movie. I rented Clash of the Titans to watch whilst the gas wore off and the pain started.

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Watching the movie again almost forty years later, it fares very well indeed.

The film is based on Greek mythology and revolves around Perseus and his exploits. I love the fact that the film doesn’t sugar coat the darker aspects of these tales that are being depicted with the more gruesome aspects of Perseus’ adventures being shown in all their gory glory. Hence, we get Calibos’ hand being cut off, the full on horror of Medusa and the three blind witches (one of whom is played by acclaimed actress Flora Robson which leads me to think that once a woman in the acting profession hits a certain age she is instantly cast as a ‘grotesque’).

The film had an all star cast that the studio was quick to publicise in it’s promotional material.

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And a fine cast it is with Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith and plenty of other esteemed stage performers lending serious gravitas to proceedings. Harry Hamlin who was cast as Perseus and was largely unknown at that time does a great job after being pushed centre stage and having to compete with such lovey heavyweights.

Fun fact- this film was written by Beverley Cross who was married to Maggie Smith who is cast as Thetis. Cross is written about extensively in Kenneth Williams’ Diaries.

Talking of the promotional material for the film, check out the poster artwork. It’s high art.

Clash of the Titans also brought in Ray Harryhausen for his use of stop motion effects for the depiction of such mythical beasts as The Kraken and Medusa. These sequences are a distinct highlight of the film and also hark back to other sandal and sorcery classics like Jason and the Argonauts.

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In fact, most of the effects depicted in the film work well and have aged very well indeed. But, there are a few that look a bit stagey and unreal. These involve back projection with figures being superimposed over the top of this- and it looks like it! Thankfully, these sequences are few and far between. The film was made at a time where special effects were in transition with films with much bigger budgets being able to stump up for the effects they required. One obvious example is that of Superman which showed that a man really can fly…but especially when millions of dollars are pumped into the illusion.

Clash of the Titans received the ultimate honour on it’s release in that it was awarded a Look In Special. For those of you unlucky to not know, Look In was a kids magazine that was billed as a Junior TV Times and featured TV stars, musicians and other pop culture figures. It was popular in the 70s and 80s. I’m guessing that the front cover of this special edition wasn’t illustrated by a professional artist.

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

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- The New York Ripper (1982)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- The New York Ripper (1982)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…)

Review- The Driver (1978)

Review- The Driver (1978)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meathook Cinema Salutes…Beryl Reid

Meathook Cinema Salutes…Beryl Reid

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

PsychomaniaReidandHensonHistory 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. 

 

Review- The Anniversary (1968)

Review- The Anniversary (1968)

Even though her husband popped his clogs some ten years before, Mrs Taggart still makes an occasion of her wedding anniversary to him by making sure that her sons join her at the family home so they can celebrate together.

The build up to the event sees her sons describing her as akin to a force of nature that can’t be controlled and as a fierce matriarch. This seems fitting when she finally makes her entrance on screen as she is played by none other than Bette Davis who is on flying form and attacks her role with relish. Not just that but she has a fantastic wardrobe topped off with an eye patch!

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It’s obvious that Mrs Taggart will keep her boys in place by means necessary whether it be manipulation, knowing secrets that her sons would rather be kept private to be used at any given moment like some kind of trump card that she keeps up her sequinned sleeves and by finding any weaknesses that her sons or their partners possess.

It’s fitting that this film was made by Hammer Films as whilst on the surface it’s a very black comedy, it also works as a horror film with Davis demolishing all around her like a very stylish and catty version of Godzilla.

The tone here is high camp which is why it works so well. If this was presented as more serious it wouldn’t have been half as much fun and Davis would have been wasted.

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Davis didn’t want to take the role but only changed her mind when her friend Jimmy Sangster rewrote the script for the screen from the stage version. Sangster had penned the excellent screenplay for Davis’ earlier film, The Nanny (also highly recommended).

There was also animosity between cast members with ‘serious stage actress’ Sheila Hancock witnessing the way Davis was pampered over and given the attention deserving of a star of her stature and being utterly alienated by it. C’est la vie.

**** out of *****

Review- Yesterday (2019)

Review- Yesterday (2019)

Jack Malik is a struggling singer/songwriter. On his way back home from a gig he finds himself in an accident as the result of a worldwide power outage. Whilst recuperating he finds that he is now in a world where, shock horror, The Beatles and their music are completely unknown with their songs not being written or recorded. He fraudulently decides to address this by performing the songs in his own set and quickly becomes famous because of this.

This film is vile. Firstly it presumes that The Beatles’ music is so fantastic that it would become huge in any era and under any auspices. Theres only a handful of the band’s entire oeuvre that I can tolerate at best and so this film’s assertion is completely, pun not intended, tone deaf to me.

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Horrific

Secondly, Ed Sheeran stars as himself. In a film that centres around bland music, it’s fitting that he has a prominent place within proceedings. But whoever thought that Sheeran has a face for the celluloid screen? He looks like a ginger version of Pepe The Frog.

Thirdly, this film is so twee that it seems to have been made to be shown on BBC1 (preferably on a Sunday afternoon) for many decades to come. It’s full of irritating middle class people being all cutesy, annotingly awkward and vomit inducing to boot. It’s no surprise that Richard Curtis wrote this monstrosity.

If I had to rewrite this film it would go like this- Jack finds that whilst The Beatles are nowhere to be heard (and suffered) in the post outage world, there’s a band called Throbbing Gristle who are as famous as The Fab Four were. Songs such as United, Zyklon B Zombie and Six Six Sixties are known by everybody and appropriately held dear in the hearts of the populace. Jack peddles his Beatles covers but he, like their songs, remains mired in obscurity. The End.

Yesterday gets no stars.

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Throbbing Gristle- the anti-Beatles

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Pieces (1982)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Pieces (1982)

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.

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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.

PiecesMother

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.

PiecesAxe.jpg

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.

PiecesChainsaw

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).

PiecesBastard

Pieces is the gift that just keeps on giving. A stone-cold classic.

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

Review- Grease (1978)

Review- Grease (1978)

Along with most other households in the UK for members of Gen X (the best generation by the way), we had the soundtrack for the film Grease. When the film was finally shown on UK TV I recorded it and watched it fat too much. It was a ‘go to film’ for a time when I was young.

GreaseGatefold

But this was stopped when I asked my brother’s new girlfriend if she liked the film and soundtrack. She frowned and said ‘It’s a bit tacky…’ This stayed with me. How could I have been into something so lacking in sophistication and tacky?! My love for Grease abruptly ended.

I found myself recently revisiting the film when it was shown on TV again. Would I cringe and snigger whilst wondering how I could have possibly have watched such rubbish as a child? No! I loved it!

For those who have been living under a rock since 1978, the film concerns the holiday romance between Danny Zuko and Australian Sandy Olsson. As Sandy finds that her family are staying on in America rather than returning to Oz she starts at Rydell High School, not knowing that Zuko attends there. She also doesn’t know that he is the leader of a greaser gang known as The T-Birds. This leads to the tough and streetwise Danny she meets rather than the sensitive and caring Danny she knew from her summer holiday. Sandy is taken under the wind of a girl gang known as The Pink Ladies led by the inimitable Rizzo.

RizzoGrease
The true star of the show, Rizzo

I love how theres another layer to the wit within the film that completely went over my head when I was a kid. Grease is full of filthy references as the teenagers characters (most of whom look like they’re actually at least 35) are unabashedly full of hormones and lust (except the pure and virginal Sandy). And so we get fantastic ‘blink and you’ll miss them’ gags such as a car door being slammed on Danny’s erection at the drive-in after he tried to get it on with Sandy and the appearance of the cling film during the Greased Lightning sequence.

And then theres the music which is just as steeped in nostalgia and a lost era as the film’s visuals and narrative are. And just like the rest of the film, the songs are just as funny. Possibly the greatest of these is the Beauty School Dropout sequence resplendent with Frankie Avalon. Surreal, hilarious and utterly inspired.

BeautySchoolDropout

But there are also poignant musical moments such as Sandy singing Hopelessly Devoted To You and Rizzo’s There Are Worse Things I Could Do. This isn’t a one note movie.

Grease originally started as a stage musical on Broadway  in 1972 and was instrumental in a revival of all things 50’s Americana in the 70’s which continued with American Graffiti and Happy Days. The film imbues the same wistful nostalgia which is gleefully part fact, part fiction as times gone by normally are when viewed through rose-tinted glasses. This doesn’t matter a jot however as Grease is still a fantastic piece of escapism.

In fact, theres very little difference between this and say, John Waters’ Cry Baby which just goes to show what a fantastic era both films draw inspiration from and how close to the bone and risqué they are.

Grease has also been the subject of many different kinds of film analysis. My favourite is the one that sees it as a lesbian text with Sandy being ‘femme’ and Danny being ‘butch’.

Butch and Femme
Butch and femme

Grease is a film that was the highest grossing of 1978, with the soundtrack being just as successful when it came to record sales. And it was utterly justified.

Watching Grease after so many years was like being visited by an old friend.

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

Review- Girl on a Motorcycle (1968)

Review- Girl on a Motorcycle (1968)

This trippy 1968 British Lion film concerns the free-spirited Rebecca (Marianne Faithfull) who leaves her more conventional husband, Raymond to go and meet a man called Daniel (Alain Delon) who she met for the first time as she was working at her father’s bookshop who seems much more interesting and passionate. The journey is undertaken on her prized Harley Davidson Electra Glide and entails her travelling from France to Germany. It was Daniel who gave her the bike as a wedding present. The film captures the inner pontifications of Rebecca as she ponders convention and how suffocating it is and her desires for Daniel rather than the more stoid Raymond.

After having a few too many shots in a German bar she climbs onto her motorcycle again to finish her journey to meet Daniel. It was at this point that I thought that there shoudl have been more films made of Rebecca’s adventures on her motorcycle and even a spin-off TV series. But then I saw the shocker of an ending and realised why there weren’t more films made.

This film was not only a star vehicle for Faithfull (who doesn’t disappoint) but also feels like British Lion dipping it’s toe into the kind of mind blowing and tripped out films made for those who were fully ensconced in that swinging scene, man. Several sequences look like acid-soaked flashbacks with their psychedelic colours and dream like qualities.

I also loved the daydream style sequences within the film such as the circus sequence in which Rebecca is standing on top of a moving horse whilst being whipped by ringmaster Delon. There’s also a very special sequence in which Rebecca is riding along on her bike and superimposes the faces of her beaux on the billboards she sees.

The film had the more provocative title of Naked Under Leather in the States. This was after they made the filmmakers cut out several scenes of smut.

Alain DelonMarianne Faithfull
Roger Mutton
Marius Goring
Alain Delon Marianne Faithfull Roger Mutton Marius Goring

This is a fantastic, over the top and quite crazy piece of filmmaking and is still regarded as a brilliant cult film and for good reason.

**** out of *****