Review- Tales That Witness Madness (1973)

Review- Tales That Witness Madness (1973)

A psychiatrist shows a colleague some of his clients whilst explaining their backstories.


A young boy has a nightly visitor- a tiger who will kill for him, an antique dealer has a Penny Farthing that he inherited from his aunt that allows him to travel back in time, Joan Collins finds that she must compete with a tree (!) for her husband’s affections and a young woman is sacrificed so that a character’s mother is assured a safe passage to heaven.


Tales That Witness Madness is engaging enough, has a great cast (Donald Pleasance, HRH Joanie Collins, Kim Novak) and is terrifically directed by Freddie Francis. But, it’s just a bit tame. It feels like a series of Tales of the Unexpected episodes stitched together. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but as this is film and not television there was an opportunity for more gore or freakiness.


Not the worst horror film I’ve ever seen, but there are better horror anthologies out there.

2.5 stars out of 5


Review- The Mutations (1974)

Review- The Mutations (1974)

A genetic engineering professor is trying to further his knowledge by experimenting on humans and passing on the results to the leader of a circus freak show who has a glandular disorder which has affected his appearance. He actually used to be part of the act himself.


This film is a doozy. There’s so much to love here. The opening credits of time-lapse footage of flowers blooming and mushrooms sprouting is gorgeous. This goes into a lecture being given by the professor (played by legend Donald Pleasance) and it’s so captivating that I thought that an hour and a half of this would make me happy.


I loved that the ‘freaks’ in the circus act are treated with utter respect and as the gorgeous human beings they are. The obvious reference point here is Tod Browning’s similarly brilliant film Freaks. But, The Mutations distinctly has the feel of a 70’s exploitation film. The circus act leader is played by Tom Baker (who in my humble opinion is the best Doctor Who) and as ever his performance is fantastic. I love the sequence where he goes to Soho and visits a prostitute. This reminded me of an early scene in slasher classic The Burning in which Cropsy goes in search of ahem, female company. In fact, there is another similarity here: Cropsy and Baker’s character dress in a long coat, a scarf obscuring their features resplendent with a large hat. Both characters look like the villain from a Giallo movie.

In fact, The Mutations is also a great 70’s London movie. There’s even a scene that takes place outside the Royal Albert Hall with beautiful shots of the gorgeous architecture.

The makeup is fantastic and way ahead of its time. Stills of these creations were used extensively for publicity for the film.

The music by Basil Kirchin and Jack Nathan is extraordinary. It contains such leftfield fare as oscillating sounds fed through darkly psychedelic effects and loud discordant violins. The composers were truly thinking outside the box and it reminded me of the great soundtracks for such films as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes.  I hope one day the soundtrack for The Mutations will be released as an album.

The Mutations is a fantastic piece of British 70’s horror that is terrifying and hallucinatory but also very humane where it counts. It also fantastically depicts a time in British horror history when there seemed to be no limits especially when it came to imagination.

4.5 stars out of 5

Review- Our Miss Fred (1972)

Review- Our Miss Fred (1972)

Drag act Danny La Rue was one of the highest-paid entertainers in the UK in the early 70s. Our Miss Fred was a film written specifically as a vehicle for him.


The film concerns a classically trained actor, Fred Wimbush who is asked to entertain the troops with his drag act in France during World War 2.

Whilst there France is captured by the Germans who actually let Fred go as they think he is a woman. He fears that he will be shot as a spy if they discover his secret and so must remain as a woman until he can escape the country and get back to England. He takes refuge in an English all-girls finishing school where he finds that they are hiding an escaped airman (named Smallpiece which shows the kind of innuendo that is a very welcome staple of the film).


La Rue’s only appearance in the world of film is surprisingly low-key and very endearing. I love the fact that it looks like vaseline has been smeared over the camera lens whenever La Rue has a close-up.

The double entendres come thick and fast and are very funny. There’s also great support from Lance Percival (Smallpiece) and Frances De La Tour who would later appear as Miss Jones in the classic comedy series Rising Damp.


The sequence in which La Rue leads a rousing version of Hitler’s Only Got One Ball (!) was cut from the original film release so that it would secure an A certificate from the BBFC. Subsequent releases would be uncut and this sequence would be placed back in.

3.5 stars out of 5

Review- Confessions From A Holiday Camp (1977)

Review- Confessions From A Holiday Camp (1977)

In this final instalment of the Confessions series Timmy Lea has decided to give up the promiscuous trysts with ‘crumpet’ and enters a monastery instead. Just kidding. In this Confessions movie, our heroes Timmy and Sid are working at the Funfrall Holiday Camp. The new manager (John Junkin) is very strict and has ordered Sid to make the beauty contest a roaring success or Sid and Timmy will be fired. Sid asks Timmy to comb the camp for appropriate beauties to enter the contest (of all the people he could have given such a task). He also asks Timmy to keep it in his pants to avoid any potentially embarrassing situations he could be caught in.

confessions from a holiday camp - cinema quad movie poster (1).j
Original Cinema Quad Poster – Movie Film Posters

The theme song for this film is ‘Give Me England’ by none other than renowned 70’s pop group The Wurzels (previous hits include I’m A Cider Drinker and I’ve Got A Brand New Combine Harvester).


Another feature of Confessions From A Holiday Camp is that there are gay and trans characters. Lance Percival plays a fabulous camp colleague of Timmy’s. He puts the camp in holiday camp.

Sample line of dialogue- Timmy approaches a woman with a beauty contest application form- ‘I’d like to enter you (pause) in the beauty contest!’ No, it’s not Pinter but it made me laugh out loud.


The young boy who played Tristan in George and Mildred stars here as a mischievous young scamp. We see him making farting sounds with a balloon as campers are touching their toes during an exercise class.


Confessions From A Holiday Camp is just as funny as the previous entries, the sight gags are just as well executed and the camp quotient is just as high. The only bone (pun not intended) of contention for me is which Confessions film I love the most.

4 stars out of 5

Review- Countess Dracula (1971)

Review- Countess Dracula (1971)

A little anecdote before I start my review. I lived in London where I went to university and studied Film. I stayed on after uni for 13 years. There were many famous people who I respected that I saw in passing and spoke to. It would take one hell of a celebrity for me to feel starstruck and not have the balls to go up and chat to. One such person was Ingrid Pitt. I’ve been smitten with this divine creature ever since I saw her in horror films when I was a boy. She was standing on a Tube station platform and I couldn’t believe my eyes. She was as regal and gorgeous as ever and she stood in such high standing for me that I was too intimidated to go up and say hello. Now, on with the review…

I first saw Countess Dracula in 1987 when Tyne Tees Television were showing most of Hammer Studio’s glorious output. The film is based on the real-life figure of Elizabeth Bathory. Pitt plays Countess Elizabeth Nadasdy who becomes younger when she bathes in the blood of young female virgins. When Elizabeth becomes younger she takes on the identity of her 17-year-old daughter Ilona whom she has arranged to be held captive in a secluded hut in a nearby forest so that Elizabeth’s secret isn’t exposed.


This film is glorious. It’s risque because of its subject matter and also brings in other taboo (for those times) elements such as lesbianism. Countess Dracula feels like it was pushing boundaries in film and clearly relishes doing it.

It’s also risque because it’s just a little bit rude. I love the scene where Elizabeth speaks to young Lieutenant Imre Toth for the first time and her gaze lowers from his face to, erm, lower down on his body. Pitt is perfect casting as the Countess with a simmering, smouldering sexuality and natural charm that is possessed in spades by the actress.


There’s also some cracking dialogue within the film. When a domestic states that her daughter is missing, Elizabeth’s husband Captain Dobi pithily replies ‘Have you tried the local whorehouse?’ I thought I was watching a John Waters film for a moment.


I also love the fact that Elizabeth gets craggier and appears to decompose when she hasn’t bathed in blood for a while. The fact that this happens suddenly and not gradually is also another great feature of the narrative and rather unfortunate for Elizabeth.

This also happens in reverse- when she receives the youth-giving elixir of a virgin’s blood, she instantly appears younger. The sequence in which a domestic cuts herself very badly with the blood splattering on Elizabeth who instantly appears younger and is revitalised is fantastic.


Countess Dracula is one of my favourite Hammer films. Perfectly cast, shot and scripted. It also introduced me to the goddess that is Ingrid Pitt. Job done.

4 stars out of 5

Review- Cisco Pike (1972)

Review- Cisco Pike (1972)

Musician Cisco Pike has been arrested for drug dealing. We see him trying to pawn his guitar. He can’t pawn it and comes home to find that his latest demos have been rejected. A cop called Leo Holland approaches Pike with a deal- to sell a massive amount of marijuana that he has, ahem, acquired. He needs $10,000 and gives Pike 59 hours to sell it. Any excess money he can keep along with having his most recent arrest paperwork altered if the case goes to trial so that he gets off. Pike agrees but things go wrong when mid-sale, a buyer sees Holland spying on them. He takes off, Pike angrily returns the drugs to Holland but is later confronted by the cop who beats him and threatens to kill him if Pike doesn’t continue with the sales.


This is an impressive slice of New Hollywood with the rulebook being ripped up. Cisco Pike was made by Columbia Pictures and it feels like they were trying to tap into a counter-culture demographic. The film could happily have been shown in regular movie theatres but also drive-ins, grindhouse cinemas and programmed for midnight screenings. I can imagine the smell of Mary Jane at these screenings.


The fact that the film is about a corrupt cop approaching a drug dealer (who to his credit is trying to go straight) to sell a vast amount of weed that he has stolen feels very ‘new’ within the confines of mainstream Hollywood also. The cast is fantastic with Kris Kristofferson making his film debut and doing a great job as well as Gene Hackman as Holland and Karen Black as Cisco’s love interest. The supporting cast is also impressive with Warhol superstar Viva and Harry Dean Stanton (credited here as H.D. Stanton) featuring.


I loved the oh-so-trippy filmmaking techniques used. Let’s just say there’s a lot of handheld cameras used. Another example of the rulebook being ripped up. Or used to make roaches.

Look out for the Blu Ray released by the ever-brilliant Indicator label. It’s fantastic.

3.5 stars out of 5

Review- Magic (1978)

Review- Magic (1978)

After Corky Withers (Anthony Hopkins) bombs as a magician at a nightclub amateur night, he changes tack and ploughs ahead with the aid of a gimmick- a ventriloquist’s dummy named Fats. After a year of hard slog, he becomes well-known and even attracts the attention of an agent (Burgess Meredith). He’s on the verge of superstardom but for no explicable reason won’t take a medical check which is needed before he’s allowed to appear on network television. In frustration, he escapes to The Catskills where he grew up and hooks up with Peggy Ann Snow (Ann-Margret) the woman he first had a crush on in high school.


We see Corky start to descend into madness, as Fats becomes almost like a separate entity. All of the most macabre thoughts Corky has Fats blurts out. Soon Fats is telling Corky who he should bump off and how to hide the body. The first victim is Corky’s agent who inadvertently sees Corky and Fats conversing as if Fats is a real person rather than a doll and shows how advanced Corky’s madness is.


After a slow start, once the madness and murder start there’s no stopping it. I like that. It’s not obvious from the opening act of the film that it is actually a horror movie and so when the insanity rears its head, it’s a genuine surprise.

Magic is a showcase for what a fantastic actor Anthony Hopkins is. In fact, there are universally brilliant performances all around. I love the way that Fats acts as the devil on Corky’s shoulder, a manifestation of his murderous impulses.

Magic is also a fantastic New York movie before the film switches to the gorgeous locales of The Catskills.

Film critic Gene Siskel was so impressed by the film that he awarded it 4 stars out of 4 and made it one of his favourite films of 1978. But the film received the ultimate accolade. It was awarded its own poster magazine. Who wouldn’t want a large fold-out poster of a homicidal ventriloquist’s dummy?!


4 stars out of 5

Review- Confessions of a Pop Performer (1975)

Review- Confessions of a Pop Performer (1975)

Timmy Lea and his brother-in-law are still cleaning windows (see the previous film) but somehow blag their way into the world of pop management. The band they start to manage are called Bloater which Timmy’s brother in law then renames Kipper (it’s classier). When Kipper’s drummer is unable to play a gig, Timmy steps in.


This film is just as much of a time capsule as the previous entry in the franchise and just as beautifully filmed. The gags come thick and fast and are just as hilarious. Even the sight gags are very funny and hit their desired target.

One of the bored housewives Timmy does the horizontal bop with during the course of the film is none other than Jill Gascoine! Her onscreen husband is Bob Todd of Benny Hill fame. Rula Lenska also stars. Talk about a stellar ensemble cast.


Kipper are entered into a talent contest called Star Knockers. One of the other pop groups in the film are a female duo of singers called The Climax Sisters. I’m sure there will be those who find this kind of humour not very funny at all. But there are those, like myself, who love it. Confessions of a Pop Performer is just as much a valuable piece of 70’s pop culture as Confessions of a Window Cleaner was.


A soundtrack for this film featuring Kipper’s songs (sample song title- ‘The Clapham’) was released on Polydor Records. I have it. It’s ace.


4 stars out of 5

Review- Killer Fish (1979)

Review- Killer Fish (1979)

A Jaws/Piranha rip-off called Killer Fish starring Lee Majors and Karen Black, you say?! I am soo fricking there!

You know the kind of film to expect when you see that this is a Sir Lew Grade Production. I love his ’70s exploitation films set in exotic locales with all-star casts. They are part Whickers World episodes and whatever film was popular at the box office when it was made.

Killer Fish concerns a robbery of precious jewels by an organised gang. The mastermind behind this heist then hides the booty at the bottom of a reservoir which he has populated with deadly piranha (as opposed to friendly vegetarian piranha). This is so that whoever tries to retrieve the jewels and do a runner will meet their karmic fate. There is so much suspicion and paranoia among the robbers. This makes the film very entertaining whenever the fish aren’t doing their thing. There are also plenty of double-crossings and twists and turns in the plot. At more than one point of the movie, I thought, ‘This film is far more intelligent than I expected it to be’.

The kills were well executed (pun not intended) and near the end of proceedings, there’s a tense scene where most of the cast are on a boat which is slowly sinking. They are close to shore but several thousand piranhas lie between them and land. What do they do? What I would have done was to throw the very fat and irritating photographer character (think of a camp version of Franklin from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and you can imagine what he’s like) into the drink. All of the piranhas would have been preoccupied feasting on his blubber which would allow the rest of the characters to get back to the mainland unscathed. In fact, his character is eaten towards the end of the film when he tries to escape on a raft (as if a raft would support his bulk!)  I imagined cinema audiences getting to their feet and cheering like hell when this played out. I know I did.

The soundtrack for the film is fantastic. Atypically 70’s which is perfect for this kind of film but also strangely sinister and avant-garde in places. Simon May is one of the writers of the theme song. He would later write the theme song for EastEnders, fact fans.

As Karen Black is a cast member, there are, thankfully, scenes of her being her demented self. One great scene has her freaking out after coming face to face with the killer fish but getting out of the water unscathed. She starts trying to bat them away even though she isn’t in the water anymore. Sir Grade securing Ms Black as part of the cast of Killer Fish was a stroke of genius.

Lee Majors’ wardrobe within the film also warrants mention. He is rocking a camp gringo kind of look in a lot of scenes, all tight vests, hats at a jaunty angle and neck scarves.

Is Killer Fish as good as the film it’s ripping off, namely Piranha by Joe Dante? Hell no. But it’s pretty damn entertaining for its runtime and is a B+ imitator. There’s much worse out there. Much, much worse!

3 stars out of 5

Review- Confessions of a Window Cleaner (1974)

Review- Confessions of a Window Cleaner (1974)
My first memory of a Confessions movie was the trailer for one of them. An older woman is looking for her cat who just happens to be called Fanny. ‘Ave you seen my Fanny?’ she asks the film’s protagonist Timothy Lea who grimaces into the camera.
The Confessions movies were made in the 70’s and based on the popular books of the same name. In this era of permissiveness and a general feeling of ‘anything goes’, these films depicting Timmy’s sexploits were adapted for the big screen and reaped the rewards at the box office. Confessions of a Window Cleaner was the highest grossing British film for that year.
The film’s premise is Timmy (as played by the strangely simian Robin Askwith) who finds lots of women (as crumpet as I’m sure he’d call them) during his working day as a window cleaner. There are bored housewives for Timmy to give some TLC to and windows of buildings to clean which just so happen to have women in various states of undress inside for him to ogle over.
This movie is basically the same seaside postcard humour of the Carry On movies but notched up a few levels and with more breasts and double entendres then you can shake a pair of knickers at. It’s all so camp.
But if you expect me to sneer at this supposedly low brow level of humour then you will be massively disappointed. I love the Confessions films and this first film in the series is a cracker (to use Timmy’s lingo). The gags come thick and fast and they almost always hit the bullseye (just like the best in the Carry On series). Even the few jokes that don’t work are funny because of that.
In these oh so enlightened times, the Confessions movies would be looked down at by the wokerati. Puritans will hate Confessions of a Window Cleaner. I love it and think the whole series are a fantastic slice of British popular culture. Can we have all of the films released on Blu Ray please?
4 stars out of 5