Wanna see what would happen if someone as old school as Peter Cushing went to a groovy late 60s Swinging London happening? If so then Corruption is the film for you.
Cushing plays plastic surgeon Sir John Rowan who after getting into a fight with Anthony Booth’s sleazy photographer accidentally disfigures his fiancee’s face after a heat lamp falls onto her. Rowan tries experimental surgery involving the transplanting of young women’s pituitary glands which seems to make his partner’s disfigurement disappear. We see John kill a West End prostitute for this purpose. Unfortunately, the effects of this pioneering new surgery is only temporary which means that Rowan must kill time and time again to repeat the procedure and bring back his fiancee’s looks to their former glory.
Things then take a bizarre twist when a gang of friends of one of the missing girls invade the home of John and his partner.
This movie is fantastic. There are moments that are completely unhinged and insane. In other words, my favourite kind of cinema. Check out the chase scene that has been sped up and involves the characters wearing the kind of late 60s colours that make your retinas bleed. It’s like a Benny Hill sketch on acid. Also, Cushing is surprisingly maniacal when he’s bumping the women off.
Of course, there are comparisons with Eyes Without a Face that can be made but Corruption ventures into different avenues altogether.
Corruption shocked critics and audiences alike with its graphic violence at the time of its release. It still has the ability to shock today.
Off-kilter, left-field and batshit crazy. Not to be missed.
The first thing I noticed when watching this Tigon film was the incredible cast. It’s like a wet dream for horror fans (Boris Karloff! Christopher Lee! Barbara Steele !) A welcome surprise was seeing that Mark Eden who played Alan Bradley from Coronation Street was also in the cast.
Eden plays Robert Manning who is searching for his brother who was going to Greymarsh, the town where they grew up. Robert heads to the property his brother was staying in, Craxted Lodge and finds a party to be in full swing. He meets a partygoer, Eve whose uncle, Morley (Christopher Lee) owns the property. Eve introduces them but Morley doesn’t know of Robert’s brother and convinces him to stay the night so that he can continue to look for his brother the next day. His sleep is disturbed by a very trippy nightmare that depicts some kind of ritual and a green witch (Steele) presiding over proceedings. The next day Robert is introduced to Professor John Marsh (Karloff) who just so happens to have a collection of torture implements (red flag or red herring?) and is an expert in witchcraft and the occult (red flag or red herring?). Robert continues to search for his brother and have even freakier and frighteningly real nightmares.
I loved this Vernon Sewell-directed British horror film. I love how late 60s Swinging London culture had permeated into the film, with the party being a full-on groovy happening, man with body painting and bright colours. The filmmakers were obviously not just going for the horror crowd but also a counterculture demographic who went to see far-out movies late at night.
But this isn’t the only sequence that utilised a colour palate that could make your eyes water. The dream/nightmare sequences are stunning and very hallucinatory. I love how they end with kaleidoscope-esque visuals. I also love how the jury in the witch’s courtroom all wear animal masks with the goat mask wearer being centre stage. Events are just a little bit kinky too with the muscle-bound blacksmith wearing very skimpy trunks. He looks like he should be in a Frankie Goes To Hollywood video.
I also love how everything is accounted for using logic and rational explanations by the end, a bit like the end of an episode of Scooby Doo. Even the potential plot holes are stitched up (‘Hypnosis!’) But whilst we are led to believe that there is no real (black) magic within the film’s narrative, the film’s final frames prove otherwise.
The entire cast is fantastic and everyone is on top form. Alas, this was to be one of Karloff’s final film appearances before he ascended to the film studio in the sky.
The first thing I marvelled at regarding Die! Die! My Darling! (aka Fanatic) was the frankly amazing cast. Stephanie Powers, Donald Sutherland, Yootha Joyce and Tallulah Bankhead. That is one hell of a roll call. And what makes it even better is that the film makes every actor step out of their comfort zone and show that they can actually act. And they do a brilliant job. The film is also made by the Hammer Studios, another sign that this is going to be fantastic. And it is.
The film concerns Patricia Carroll (Powers) who arrives in London and decides to visit the mother (Mrs Trefoile played by Bankhead) of the man she was due to marry but who killed himself. Carroll has moved on with her life since then and is in London to marry someone else. On visiting the devoutly religious matriarch, she is forced to stay in Trefoile’s secluded abode against her will and locked in. Mrs Trefoile has domestic staff who aid her in ensuring that Patricia doesn’t leave or get help (Joyce without her trademark blonde hair and Sutherland playing a mentally disadvantaged albino!)
This is such a terrific film. I love its pessimism with every step Patricia takes to either escape or try to get someone to rescue her failing spectacularly. In fact, this level of pessimism reminded me of George A Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.
The cast really is playing against type with their characters too. Bankhead is far from the glamourpuss she is in most of her films, Joyce’s character couldn’t be more removed from her character of Mildred in Man About The House and George & Mildred. Here she’s a raven-haired domestic help and sadist. She’s utterly convincing. Sutherland is frankly astonishing in his role as the mentally disadvantaged albino gardener. I love how Joyce’s character appears to be unsure in some scenes regarding her allegiances to Mrs Trefoile and that the groundsman is shown shooting tin cans that he has attached pictures of Trefoile to. Before he is bumped off by her that is.
I also loved the look of the film with the greys and beiges of the majority of Mr Trefoile’s abode but the opulence and colour of the one room in which all of the artefacts from her past are including the huge portrait of her dead son.
Mrs Trefoile reminded me of Mrs Voorhees in the first Friday the 13th film but also reminded me of Bette Davis in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? Her performance really is one of those turns which is delightfully demented. You can tell Bankhead relished playing it.
I have a confession to make. I might be the only person on the planet who HATED Mad Max: Fury Road. It felt like riding a really fast 2-hour fairground ride after having a roast dinner. A very uncomfortable experience.
But whilst I detested this Tom Hardy film, another released the same year made up for it. Legend was also released in 2015 and tells the story of East End gangsters Ron and Reggie Kray. All of the events synonymous with the twin’s story are here- the shooting of George Cornell, the murder of Jack The Hat McVitie, Nipper Read’s obsession with the pair and the idea of finally arresting them.
One thing I loved about Legend was that it fantastically depicted the feeling of community in the East End of that era (all gone now, of course. In the words of Morrissey, ‘London is dead’. And he was right). I also loved the violence in the film even if it felt very cartoonish at times. In fact, the film had a tendency to descend into cartoonishness at other times too which is a shame.
However, there was another quality that the film possessed that I wasn’t expecting: its romance. When I saw Hardy as Reggie as he woos his future wife (who narrates the film), I kept thinking that he is ideal romantic lead material. I hope he finds a film in future that will exploit these qualities to their fullest.
In fact, Legend shows how much of a fantastic actor Hardy is as he plays both twins and shows their separate personalities, qualities and tics.
Legend is based on the gritty Profession of Violence by John Pearson but instead feels more like a puff piece that doesn’t challenge the Kray’s legend whatsoever. If you’re looking for a film that peels back the layers of myth that have been built around The Kray Twins then look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for solid entertainment for a couple of hours, look no further.
Max Bialystock is a producer on the skids. Now that his more successful days are over, he’s had to resort to swindling rich old ladies out of their dosh. They think they’re investing in a new play he is producing but there is no play. Max’s accountant Leo Bloom notices that it’s more profitable to make a flop than a hit as the books will never be audited on a flop and so no one will look into its financial affairs. With this in mind, they search for a play or musical so bad that it will be a huge flop. They find this in the guise of a musical celebrating Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. They also find the perfect eccentric leading man to play Hitler after auditioning for the part.
Mel Brooks’ film is hilarious. It all builds up to the stage number ‘Springtime For Hitler’ which is one of the funniest and most brilliant things I’ve ever seen on film (sample lyric- ‘Don’t be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi party’). Zero Mostel and the ever-brilliant Gene Wilder are perfectly cast as the quirky Max and Leo.
But The Producers works on another level. It also offers us a peek into the New York of the late 60s and the artists, kooks and characters who were frequenting its artistic core. Witness the director they employ, Roger De Bris, and his partner and how way out they are. Also, look at their leading man Lorenzo Saint DuBois (L.S.D. for short) who is bedecked head to toe in black, resplendent in thigh-high boots, a single ear-ring, and a Campbell’s soup can on a chain around his neck. This is, obviously, an Andy Warhol reference. This was the New York of the Velvet Underground and Who Killed Teddy Bear. The kooky actors, artists, and bohemians were pushed centre stage for some scenes within The Producers. Check out the auditions for the role of Hitler.
Of course, a film that mocks and makes light of Hitler and Nazi Germany was always going to be controversial. This was Mel Brooks’ first film and being Jewish himself he has stated that he could either get on his soapbox as to how awful the Holocaust was and be forgotten or he could make Springtime For Hitler and be remembered forever more. And it worked!
Whilst excavating for a new Underground station in London, a mysterious artefact is unearthed. Bernard Quatermass is brought in to examine it and identify its origins. What was thought to be an unexploded bomb from World War 2 is, in fact, an alien craft containing insect-like residents of Mars.
I love any film that gets apocalyptic very quickly. After a slowww build-up, we suddenly get the characters and indeed, the whole of London going to hell in a handcart. I kept thinking, ‘See what you’ve done now and just for one more station on the Jubilee Line!’
I also love how this seemingly quite conservative film suddenly becomes all trippy and far out with the discovery of the artefact. Suddenly we have kaleidoscopic visuals and giant locusts. This was way before The Exorcist 2: The Heretic.
This film is beautifully photographed and directed with panache. There’s a fantastic build-up of tension and sometimes the film skirts into the terrain of the truly insane (check out what the ‘strange vibrations’ the artefact gives off does to the characters who are subject to them. Their RADA training was used to great effect for these scenes).
Quatermass and the Pit was written by the brilliant Nigel Kneale who, at one point, wrote the first draft of Halloween 3: Season of the Witch. John Carpenter is a big fan of Quatermass and adapted the name when he wrote the screenplay for his film Prince of Darkness.
Fun fact- Andrew Keir who plays Quatermass is the father of the fabulous Julie T Wallace of Life and Loves of a She-Devil fame.
Quatermass and the Pit ran with the Christopher Lee film Circus of Fear after its original release in cinemas.
I was brought up in Yorkshire and still live here (I just got lucky, I guess…) but even I have a problem with the Barnsley accents in Ken Loach’s masterpiece, Kes. Thank God for subtitles and online Yorkshire dialect translators.
Billy Caspar is a 15-year-old youth who is due to leave school soon. He is permanently dishevelled, looks unwashed and is smaller than everyone else in his class. He always seems to be in another world, maybe because his existence in his grim 1960s town is so brutal. He discovers a nest of kestrels and early one morning steals one as a pet.
Billy and his kestrel quickly become inseparable as Billy trains and cares for it.
Kes is nothing short of astounding. A film that was made just after the boom in ‘kitchen sink dramas’, it blows my mind that a film featuring characters with the broadest Yorkshire accents would eventually be so revered that it would be released on the prestigious Criterion label when it was released on home media.
Billy is daydreaming his way through life but is approaching a critical juncture. He is due to leave his soul-destroying school life and is due to enter the equally vile world of work.
Kes (the name he gives the kestrel) gives him a purpose in life and shows that there are things that fire his interest and can even win him admiration and attention (witness the impromptu presentation he gives on his newly found passion to his English class). It’s a cruel irony that the horrific event that occurs near the end of the film (I’m not going to ruin it, but I will warn you that it’s one of the most upsetting scenes I’ve ever seen in a motion picture) occurs just after his meeting with a school careers advisor. We literally see Billy’s hope, his newly found sense of freedom and his passion snuffed out in one fell swoop. It’s devastating.
Whilst there are plenty of fantastic performances by already established actors (Lynne ‘Ivy Tilsley’ Perrie, Brian Glover), it’s Ken Loach’s insistence on using ‘real’ people who had never acted before that is the revelation here. Kes feels 100% authentic on every imaginable level.
Loach’s greatest find when it came to authenticity and real people being captured on film, was the casting of David Bradley as Billy. Bradley’s performance is nuanced, multi-layered and, most of all, utterly captivating. It’s one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in a film and one of the most audacious and brilliant casting decisions also.
I’m so glad that the sheer brutality of the dark years when corporal punishment was permitted in school has been captured here also and shown as the archaic practice it really was. If you don’t feel a twinge of emotion at the youngest boy’s reaction to getting the cane then you don’t have a soul. Corporal punishment in schools was outlawed in the UK in 1986, the very year I entered a secondary school. My timing was impeccable. I could still sense that some teachers were gutted that physically punishing a child had been made illegal and that their real reason for being a teacher had been taken away from them.
Kes is beautiful but don’t forget to switch on the subtitles. Loach says that for the American release of the film, some parts were dubbed to try to make some speeches a bit more understandable for those not from South Yorkshire. But even this didn’t work. One American film executive said that he had a better chance of understanding Hungarian films than he did of Kes.
Note- Nico Icon can be found here on YouTube. Please make sure you switch on the English subtitles before watching as some sequences are in French and German.
I first became aware of the singer Nico in 1988, ironically the year the singer passed away. I was becoming a huge fan of Siouxsie and the Banshees and a new book had been published about the band. The first few pages went through the early lives of the band members and the bands they were listening to as they were growing up. Of course one of them was The Velvet Underground and Nico. The picture published to illustrate this however wasn’t one of the iconic monochromatic shots of the band wearing shades, black clothing and looking absolutely cool with it. Instead, the image was of Nico but after see had dyed her hair and wasn’t the glacially beautiful blonde chanteuse anymore. The pic was from 1970 and she was dressed in a cape. ‘What Goth could have become if more people had taken Nico to their hearts’, I thought.
Shortly after this I started listening to and loving The Velvet Underground starting with their iconic first album. Nico’s voice was a revelation. Her teutonic vocals with her own sense of phrasing and meter were mindblowingly original. In fact, after hearing this album I bought The Marble Index and my love for Nico and her career was born.
On seeing the documentary Nico Icon on YouTube I decided to investigate further.
And I’m so glad I did. The film fully explores Nico’s legacy and metamorphosis brilliantly from her time as a model (a profession she hated as she saw herself as a blonde smiling object and nothing more), her introduction to movies with her turn in La Dolce Vita no less, her introduction to singing and then becoming a staple of Warhol’s Factory crowd (Andy famously described her singing style as like that of an IBM computer with a Greta Garbo accent) after being introduced to Warhol by Bob Dylan. Her stint as chanteuse on The Velvet Underground’s iconic first album (not to mention her relationship with The Velvet’s lead singer Lou Reed) followed shortly after this with her solo career as a result.
I wasn’t prepared for the emotional pull that the documentary has. The scene in which Nico’s aunt is listening to I’ll Be Your Mirror and starts crying because of the beauty of the music and her late niece’s vocals is incredibly moving. The fact that Lou Reed’s lyrics are displayed on the screen via the film’s subtitles show just how gorgeous they are.
The melancholic and reflective aspect of Nico’s music is also explored with songs as achingly stirring as You Are Beautiful and You Are Alone acting as a reflection of Nico’s life. She was evidently her own mirror for the world to see.
The transformation of Nico from blonde bombshell to Angel of Death is also examined. With this metamorphosis people who said to her that the change was too drastic and made her look ugly were met with joyous proclamations from the woman herself. She loved the fact that she wasn’t a blonde object of beauty anymore for others to ogle, an object.
She seemed to hate life and to be looking forward to death. She infamously became a junkie with her addiction to heroine (what else for the guest singer with The Velvets) which meant she toured constantly to supplement her habit. James Young is on hand to tell tales of what it was like to be in her band during this period with one incident involving her deliberately handing him a tour’s worth of used needles for him to dispose of when they were approaching border control whilst in their tour bus. ‘She was the Queen of the Bad Girls’, Young states. She also loved the track marks, rotting teeth and bad skin that the drug had bestowed on her body. ‘That was her aesthetic’, Young opines.
Nico’s son Ari from her relationship with French actor Alain Delon (one of Nico’s other former lovers expresses that Delon was descended from sausage makers and even though he became a famous actor there was no getting away from his true family vocation in life) is also interviewed. We hear the shocking revelation that it was her who introduced him to heroine and that whilst he was once in a coma, she came to the hospital to record the noises his life support machine made to utilise on her next album.
But throughout the documentary one thing truly shines through and that is the music itself. There has never been any other artist like Nico in terms of music and image. She was a true individual with a back catalogue that is alarmingly and consistently brilliant. Whilst her first album Chelsea Girl was material written by others for her, her second album and every subsequent album after this starting with The Marble Index, showed that Nico wasn’t just an amazing singer and frontperson but also an astonishing writer. Her imagery and obsessions are just as idiosyncratic as her persona and are utterly intoxicating. Fortunately this is captured in the documentary with all phases of her music career being given an airing. And that’s one of the greatest aspects of the film- it encourages the viewer to investigate further and fall full-on into the disturbing, beautiful and esoteric rabbit-hole that is Nico’s oeuvre. And it’s an amazing place to vacate.
Her transition from the blonde Ice Queen to the Angel of Death is extraordinary enough and reminds me of the transition that Scott Walker made from pop star pin-up to serious artist who made the kind of music that music critics can’t salivate over more. Nico was even more exemplary as when she started writing her own material we were suddenly plunged headlong into her own world with it’s own meanings and rules. It was a sphere of frozen borderlines, friar hermits and janitors of lunacy. What does it all mean? Who knows. But it works beautifully. We were invited into the mindscape of an island, a question mark, a true maverick and, dare I say, a genius.
This documentary is so good that not even the very pretentious device of snippets of dialogue appearing on the screen as text just as a subject is saying them can even ruin or tarnish proceedings. Thankfully this isn’t employed too often but why it was used at all is beyond me.
Proceedings are rounded off with a rendition of Frozen Warnings from the album The Marble Index sung by John Cale at the piano. It’s an apt tribute to a singer who Cale saw as someone truly exceptional even if the world is still catching up on Nico’s genius. But with a new biography coming out soon it appears that the wheels are in motion regarding this. This documentary is a great starting point for the uninitiated and familiar alike.
Essential and one of the best documentaries about one of the best and beguiling subjects ever to grace the arts. Even Siskel and Ebert gave the film two thumbs up. But don’t let that put you off.
A teenage drag race goes dreadfully wrong with one car being forced off a bridge and into a river. From the car a woman, Mary manages to escape and clamber ashore.
However, Mary’s life after that isn’t the same. She seems to see ghostly figures when she seemingly disassociates herself with everyday life that is going on around her. One example takes place on a bus when she sees seemingly dead people coming for her. The film very creepily plays with space and time and does so without warning. The film is just as disconcerting and disorientating for the audience as it is for Mary.
The ghostly figures she sees seem to be led by a man (in reality, the film’s director Herk Harvey) who seems intent on somehow coming for Mary to take her somewhere as yet unknown.
Mary is a church organist by occupation but even this is affected now with her only playing the kind of funereal pieces that in the future The Cure would be playing in 1981. Yes, they’re that bleak! One priest who hears her playing stops her and deems her playing as ‘Profane! Sacrilege!’
Add to this a very sleazy and creepy housemate who gets off on perving on her as she gets out of the bath and won’t let up.
The action builds up to an ending that actually takes place in an abandoned fairground. This all adds up to a truly great cinematic experience. There are sequences of this film that are far removed from anything I’ve ever seen in a motion picture before or since. The haunting photography, the use of some sequences such as a dancing scene in the carnival being sped up, the way the film takes the audience with Mary as she enters her limbo world where the dead walk and stalk her.
The idea of a limbo world between life and death was also brilliantly explored later on in the classic movie Don’t Look Now. Carnival of Souls went on to influence George A Romero who said that it was a huge influence on Night of the Living Dead as did David Lynch on Blue Velvet. The influence of the film can also be seen within the better parts of the Goth movement. The sequence where the undead run after Mary on the beach feels like a fantastic Goth version of something from a Fellini film.
Carnival of Souls is an anomaly in cinematic terms, a one-off which is like no other. It’s also a masterpiece. I’m so glad it wasn’t forgotten. It was restored and released cinematically in 1989 after it’s original 1962 release and is now on the Criterion collection on Blu ray alongside the best of cinema. And rightly so!
As soon as I saw that this 1965 Amicus film was directed by Freddie Francis I knew that the direction and photography would be beautiful. And I was right! I was also excited as I knew that this was a horror anthology film and starred two heavyweights of the genre, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
As well as Cushing and Lee the cast also includes Alan ‘Fluff’ Friedman, Donald Sutherland and Roy ‘You’re a Record Breaker!’ Castle. We even get Kenny Lynch appearing in a cameo role.
Travellers in a train compartment are joined by the very sinister Dr Schreck who whips out his deck of tarot cards and tells each of his fellow traveller’s fortunes. Each fortune told is a separate episode in this anthology.
The separate stories involve vampirism, a vine seemingly related to a Triffid that comes to life, lycanthropy, voodoo and black magic and a severed hand. I want to give more details away about each segment but there are so many brilliant twists and turns that writing any more would be like trying to tiptoe through a field full of landmines.
Each episode is completely different from each other, taking place in a real breadth of locales and circumstances which keeps the film as a whole really varied and interesting.
This film has all the ingenuity of five separate mini episodes of Tales of the Unexpected. Each concept is unpredictable, genuinely ingenious and likely to surprise most viewers.
A joy from start to finish with perhaps the biggest twist coming after each of the characters fortunes has been told.