31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 28- Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 28- Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

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.

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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.

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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.

****and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 18- Children of the Damned (1964)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 18- Children of the Damned (1964)

A sequel to Village of the Damned which is less a continuation of the plot and instead like a film containing characters who possess the same powers as the children in the original but under different circumstances.

Whereas the original took part in a countryside idyll, the action within this film is based in London. A gifted child called Paul is studied and observed by the relevant governmental authorities. Other almost supernaturally gifted children are also discovered and brought to the city so that UNESCO researchers can witness them at work. They are brought from places as varied as China, Russia and Nigeria.

These gifted children then abscond from each of their respective embassies that they are staying in and take refuge in an abandoned church. It’s here that the authorities and the army find them and have to decide whether to try to coax the children out or destroy them if they pose a threat to humanity. It’s here that a tense standoff encroaches.

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This film as opposed to the original is firmly on the side of the children who we see as persecuted and in need of human support. The original depicted them as inhuman, devoid of emotion and empathy and very much as villains in a horror film. Children of the Damned elicits sympathy and compassion for the children who are shown as unjustly discriminated against, ostracised and treated as freaks in many ways. Having high levels of intelligence and other powers such as telekinesis are gifts but also hindrances. Witness the speech Paul’s mother shrieks at him that she should have destroyed him before she took him in her arms for the first time.

I made the mistake of reading the reviews for this film before I actually watched it. The few examples I could find were derogatory and very unflattering. They were also wrong, in my humble opinion. Children of the Damned may not be as good as the original film it is a sequel to but is still a vivid, well written, engaging film that is well worth a view. The shots of 60’s London are beautiful. A special mention to Ian Hendry (Repulsion) who heads a stellar cast.

***and a half out of *****

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31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 11- The Sorcerers (1967)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 11- The Sorcerers (1967)

A Tigon film from 1967 regarding Marcus, a doctor (played by Boris Karloff) who practices hypnosis. His wife Estelle is also part of his practice as they search for a suitable subject for their experiments. Step forward swinging 60’s hip-cat Mike Roscoe (played by future Saint Ian Ogilvy) who Marcus picks up in a Wimpy bar (it sounds well dodgy, eh?!) Roscoe follows Marcus back to his house and his hypnosis machine whilst being promised good times with no consequence before Marcus uses the machine on him.

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After undergoing the hypnosis machine (this sequence is very aesthetically pleasing. Think of the inner sleeve portraits of the band from The Velvet Underground and Nico album with the projectiles of dots over their faces and you’re almost there) we learn that Marcus and his wife are able to experience whatever Mike is experiencing (but this is a double-edged sword as any physical injuries that Mike sustains will also be inflicted on the couple) with the pair being able to influence this by planting thoughts in Mike’s mind to force him to do whatever they wish.

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But with such an ability to control someone’s life there comes great responsibility and you will learn the controller’s true intentions and characters. Marcus becomes almost like an angel on Mike’s shoulder whilst his wife Estelle becomes the opposite and it isn’t long before she’s forcing him to beat up and even murder those around him. She even destroys the hypnosis machine when Marcus suggest deprogramming Mike’s current mentally malleable state.

This film is terrific but I knew it would be as it’s directed by Michael Reeves who made the similarly amazing Witchfinder General (aka The Conqueror Worm in the States). A fantastic premise, engaging characters but also very poignant as London life in the 60’s is captured beautifully from the ‘new’ of the hip clubs Mike resides in through to the ‘old’ of the streets, pubs and newsagents of everyday life. This film is like a time capsule and photographed handsomely.

The cast are uniformly brilliant but it’s the covertly evil Estelle, the Lady Macbeth of the film who steals the show. Her performance is astonishing as her face and eyes seemingly mutate and become more evil as her character does.

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A classic.

****and a half out of *****

Review- The Servant (1963)

Review- The Servant (1963)

After he has come back from travelling, a wealthy young man named Tony (James Fox) decides to employ a house servant. Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) successfully applies for the position. The relationship works well but this soon changes when Tony’s girlfriend Susan starts to spend time at Tony’s abode. She seems not to treat Barrett as human and takes the role of ‘master’ to his ‘servant’ to almost cruel lengths. Things get even more surreal with the introduction of Barrett’s ‘sister’ who comes to work under Tony in the same subservient role.

I’m surprised I’ve only just seen this film for the first time. It was worth the wait. This is brilliant on every level. There are universally fantastic performances especially from Fox and Bogarde who throw themselves into the descent into madness which Harold Pinter’s adaptation of Robin Maugham’s book portrays.

In fact, Pinter has a cameo role in the scene in the restaurant which epitomises the convention-breaking nature of the material at hand. We are shown an excerpt from the conversation from each table in the venue. We’re privileged enough to become privy to multiple different narratives and stories from many different characters, not just Tony and his girlfriend. One of these pairings is Pinter as a socialite and his date.

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Check out director Joseph Losey’s use of mirrors to portray the action but also to distort it’s view to the audience just as the film’s events are being shaped and distorted. Also, check out Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography which is breathtaking.

The film also reverses, subverts and delightfully fiddles around with the power dynamic of the ‘master’ and ‘servant’- who is serving who? Do the truly subservient characters even realise?

In fact, things get so surreal that I would have sworn that Pinter had written this story himself rather than just adapting it. This would make a great triple-bill with William Friedkin’s The Birthday Party (also written by Pinter) and Polanski’s Repulsion.

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On The Servant’s release it won a raft of awards and rightfully so. It also resides on The BFI’s Top 100 British Film’s list.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Review- The Square Ring (1953)

Review- The Square Ring (1953)

A British film from the 50’s about professional boxing. We get to meet those fighters who participate in a one-night event that involves a programme of many fights.

This film is like a snapshot of a long lost era of British filmmaking. We have great characters, a sly sense of humour at play and grit in the way the sport is portrayed as completely corrupt and in turn corrupting.

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The film also shows how truly brutal the sport is. The ending is totally gut-wrenching and completely unexpected.

We also get British film royalty in the guise of legends such as Joan Collins, Joan Sims and Sid James as part of the cast.

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Highly recommended.

4 out of 5 stars

Review- Yield to the Night (1956)

Review- Yield to the Night (1956)

Yield to the Night finds the character of Mary Price Hilton shoot her boyfriend’s lover and then spending her time in prison awaiting her execution by hanging. Her story is told in flashback during this stay.

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On the 7th day God created Diana Dors. From her TV appearances on The Two Ronnies (playing the head of a female army who wish to take over and make all men subservient) through to her appearance in the Adam and the Ants video for Prince Charming, Ms Dors was a regular part of my childhood.

I then discovered the TV series of Queenie’s Castle from the 70’s (filmed here in Leeds) which fully exuded Dors’ abilities as a great actress.

Yield to the Night was the only worthwhile foray into film for Diana with subsequent vehicles being a complete waste of her talents. This film is amazing. The flashback sequences which show how a sultry goddess could be driven to murder are fully rounded, believable and achingly painful. As are the sequences in which she is in captivity. Check out the internal monologues we’re privileged to partake in and how she is far from a blonde bimbo. These observations about her plight and her fate are reminiscent of Travis Bickle’s musings in Taxi Driver.

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A strong case is made for the brutality of capital punishment in a ‘civilised’ society and how wrong it is. Thankfully since the film’s release this has now been rectified. You will think of this film when someone comments ‘They should bring back hanging’ in response to a news story.

4/5 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 28- The Legacy (1978)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 28- The Legacy (1978)

Katharine Ross plays a woman going to London with her partner (played by Sam Elliott at his homoerotic best) for a job interview.

Whilst riding on a motorbike in the countryside surrounding London they are almost crashed into by a Rolls Royce. The owner apologises and, as their bike has been damaged, they are put up for the weekend at his huge country mansion. But then things start to turn weird. Very weird.

There seems to be a fair few films from the 70’s which prompt me to think ‘What the…’ when I see them. The pinnacle of this sub-genre (lets call it ‘Cocaine was involved’) is The Exorcist 2: The Heretic.

Whilst The Legacy doesn’t reach that film’s dizzying heights of coke-fuelled weirdness (and no other film does), it does still deliver to such as extent that viewers’ eyes will be popping out of their skulls at some scenes. Wanna see Roger Daltry get a trachioctomy on top of a banquet table? Wanna see the guy who played Blofeld (Charles Gray, not Donald Pleasance) being supernaturally burnt to a crisp? Sure you do! And lets not forget the demonically possessed swimming pool and shower.

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If you don’t believe me about how fucked up this film is then just look at this still. Like a bad acid flashback.

It will help to be stoned whilst watching this movie. The film will only make perfect sense this way.

2/5 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 12- Island of Terror (1966)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 12- Island of Terror (1966)

Scientists on an island just off Ireland are close to finding a cure for cancer but accidentally produce ‘silicates’: tentacled creatures that suck the bone marrow from their victims.

This is a British film directed by Terence Fisher who made a lot of films for Hammer. The version that I saw had been restored by Pinewood Studios where the film was produced and it looks gorgeous. The cinematography and colour palate of the film have been brought out beautifully.

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This is a fantastic invasion movie from a bygone era and feels like something John Wyndham might have written. The creatures are like giant flattened slugs but with a single antennae which in reality are so unthreatening that it’s hilarious. But it adds to the charm of the movie- and it’s still better than some CGI modern multiplex borefest.

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But don’t think that this film is a just a cheesy film to merely laugh off. The version I saw had reinstated a sequence in which Peter Cushing’s character has his hand chopped off with an axe. This scene was taken out of prints after the BBFC said that it was too strong for audiences. With the restoration of the film for release on Blu-ray this scene is available to be seen in all it’s bloody glory.

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Cushing’s character post-axe.

The Odeon UK Blu-ray release of this film looks great. The US Scream Factory release is meant to be even better. I look forward to seeing it.

3/5 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 10- Tales of the Unexpected (TV series)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 10- Tales of the Unexpected (TV series)

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).

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Esther in 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.

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The butch camp of The Professionals. Lewis Collins on the right *blush*

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).

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The dancing woman from the opening credits made the front of the DVD collection

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Siouxsie’s homage

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.

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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.

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Prefect and anti-Christ

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.

 

 

31 Days of Halloween- Day 9- Plague of the Zombies (1966)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 9- Plague of the Zombies (1966)

This has one of the most crazy plots of any Hammer film I’ve ever seen. I won’t give away everything that happens though.

A Cornish village is suffering from some sort of plague that is bumping people off at such a rate that the local doctor asks an expert friend to investigate what is happening. When opening up the graves of the recently deceased they discover that all of the coffins are empty. Could the answer to this mystery be connected with the tin mine which is on the land of Squire Clive Hamilton? Is it also relevant that he used to live in Haiti and the fact that he practiced voodoo and the black arts whilst he was there?

I remember seeing this in the 80s as my local television station used to show a double-bill of Hammer films every Thursday night (a blessing!) It was scary then and it’s retained it’s ability to shock. The zombies themselves are the stuff of nightmares.

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But unfortunately the film drags every now and again. But on the whole it’s worth seeing, even if it’s not the best of the studio’s output.

Fun fact- Martin Scorsese thinks highly of this film.

2/5 out of 5 stars