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

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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

31 Days of Halloween- Day 8- See No Evil (1971)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 8- See No Evil (1971)

I knew this would be a great film when I saw it was written by Brian Clemens who wrote, amongst other things, the amazing series called Thriller. I wasn’t wrong. This is a cracking movie.

Mia Farrow plays Sarah, a girl who is returning home after being in hospital after a fall from a horse has made her go blind.

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She is greeted by her mother and father. She goes for a nap and doesn’t realise that when she wakes up her entire family have been murdered. There is a VERY unsettling sequence in which she doesn’t realise this and goes about her business with the dead bodies of her nearest and dearest around her. When she enters the kitchen we are shocked to discover that as she makes a cup of coffee the killer is actually sat at the kitchen table watching her every move while she is completely oblivious.

She soon discovers everyone is dead. And thats when things start to become really tense.

The killer is kept secret from the audience but it identifiable only because of a distinctive pair of boots he wears, each with a star on them. The killer’s walk from the cinema at the very start of the film is an incredible sequence.

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Theres stars from stage and screen in this film. Norman Eshley (Tristran’s dad from George and Mildred), Michael ‘Boon’ Elphick, Paul ‘Just Good Friends’ Nicholas and Lila Kaye, the landlady from The Slaughtered Lamb in An American Werewolf in London all appear.

Mia Farrow is totally believable in the lead role and coupled with some excellent direction and we have some truly tense, edge of the seat moments. Check out the scene where she moves around and through the arches in the huge house she lives in so that the killer won’t see her. Outstanding acting and camerawork.

I watched Indicator’s Blu ray for this review and it is exceptional. Theres even another cut of the film that went by the title ‘Blind Terror’ on the disc. Indicator are fast becoming a Blu ray label to rival the very best Blu ray companies out there.

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4/5 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 2- Witchfinder General (1968)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 2- Witchfinder General (1968)

I remember when I lived in London I loved perusing the list of films being shown citywide in the listings magazine Time Out. In those days (the mid 90s) there were plenty of funky little cinemas showing all manner of films old and new, renowned and obscure.

I remember going to see Witchfinder General and it instantly becoming one of my favourite films. The thing that shocked me most about the film was that it’s based on fact.

Set upon the backdrop of the Civil War between the Roundheads and Cavaliers, there was thought by those in charge to be a surge in lawlessness amongst the populace. With no state enforcers of the law being in place it was possible for self-appointed one-man ‘judge, jury and executioner’ figures to spring up.  With these times being still very religious with that fanaticism stretching to superstitious extremes then such a figure could rationalise that he was doing God’s work and stamping out witchcraft and Satan worship.

Step forward Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price). He leads his team of bloodthirsty underlings from town to town, stamping out ungodliness whilst accusing those who get in his way of being witches and so has the approval of the state to dispose of them in any number of ghoulish ways. One method in which he tests to see if people are witches is to throw them in a local lake or river. If they sink and drown, they weren’t a witch. But if they float then they are evil and need to be burnt, flogged or any other kind of torture. It’s lose/lose for the accused.

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Director Micheal Reeves’ film doesn’t flinch away from the sadistic acts that Hopkins (who actually existed) inflicts and how utterly barbaric and cruel the times were. There are some great examples of dark gallows humour too- notice the children who have just witnessed a supposed ‘witch’ being burnt to death. We see them baking potatoes in her still smouldering ashes.

Witchfinder General was very controversial when it was first released with the BBFC demanding cuts and most critics denouncing the film’s unblinking depiction of the devilish practices carried out by Hopkins and his cronies. But, some critics saw the greatness in the film and over the years the film has gained a reputation as somewhat of a sick classic. Price’s performance is restrained and nuanced. Reeves’ direction is amazing and it feels almost as if you are watching a documentary rather than a British/American horror film from the late 60’s. American International Pictures invested some of the money for the film to be made but only thought of it as a tax write-off. They were actually very surprised when they saw the finished movie and how good it was. It’s name was changed to The Conqueror Worm for the U.S. Drive-In markets as this was a line from Edgar Allen Poe whose adaptations AIP were (in)famous for.

I love the stories about Price and Reeves not getting along during the shooting of the film.  Donald Pleasance was originally chose to play Hopkins but Price was available and a bigger star which could translate as more money at the box office. With Price playing the lead instead the script had to be changed to accommodate him. Reeves wasn’t impressed by this and let it be known that he didn’t want Price in the leading role.

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Vinny munches on a Toblerone on the film’s set

One of many examples of the bitchiness between them was from when they first met. Price’s opening gambit to the 28 year old Reeves was ‘I’ve starred in 87 films. What have you done?’ to which Reeves deadpanned ‘I’ve made 3 good ones.’

Witchfinder General is a warts and all classic. But don’t underestimate it. This is strong even by today’s standards and contains one of the most disturbing endings for a film I’ve ever seen.

5 out of 5 stars

Day 6- 31 Days of Halloween- The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)

Day 6- 31 Days of Halloween- The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)

Vincent Price’s Dr Phibes avenges the death of his wife by bumping off the culprits with each murder having a biblical connection.

Very camp, very funny and very unsettling- this is one of Price’s best just like Witchfinder General and the Poe films he also made with Roger Corman.

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Check out Phibes’ clockwork band- one of the eeriest things committed to celluloid.

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Also check out the classic art deco decors and groovier surroundings that capture the early 70s so fantastically.

Caroline Munro appears but only as photos of Phibes’ tragic dead wife.

4.5 out of 5

Day 1- 31 Days of Halloween- The Nanny (1965)

Day 1- 31 Days of Halloween- The Nanny (1965)

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What a cracking film to start my 31 Days of Halloween with.

This is a British film which stars Bette Davis as a nanny for a family living in London in which a young boy has been sent away for supposedly killing his sister. The boy is due to be released after two years and return to his family home and under Ms Davis’ supervision.

The boy vehemently protests his innocence and insists that instead it was the nanny who committed the terrible deed. Is he right? Or is the nanny indeed guilty?

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Theres already the almost unspeakable taboo of a child killing another child within this film which gives the film a grittiness right from the get go. The household in question is steeped in gothic tension even though it is in fact light and airy. No Baby Jane mansion here.

Theres also the stifling formality of English life at this time. There are so many manners and formalities at play that are overwhelmingly suffocating and claustrophobic.

Within the film there is also a delicious generation gap which underlines this and presents a tangible ‘Old vs new’ scenario. The boy in question, Joey forges a friendship with a 14 year old girl who lives in the same building. She dresses like a hip 60s girl, all white lipstick and black eyeliner. When we see within her bedroom Joey gazes up at a Beatles mobile she has hanging from the ceiling and at one point we see her reclining on her bed reading a copy of the girls magazine Jackie which has a pin up of Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones on its back cover.

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Beautifully acted (especially Ms Davis of course, whose character has a pair of the ugliest eyebrows ever captured on film) and elegantly directed, this is one of Hammer’s finest films.

Of course this would only have been made with Ms Davis if Hollywood wasn’t casting the very best stars of yesteryear anymore. Every cloud has a silver lining. What was Hollywood’s loss was very much Hammer’s gain.