Saturday, 27 May 2017

My latest article - Fortean Times.

You can read my latest article in the Fortean Times issue out now. I wrote the Les Dawson article. Read it. Danny Baker liked it.

For the time being - focusing my attention on this -

Find me on twitter @swmtdinnercast

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Bits and bobs

House of Cards (1968) Good-looking but tedious Eurospy thriller, directed by John Gullermin, George Peppard vs fascists Keith Michell and Orson Welles - ends with pre-Way of the Dragon coliseum chase.

Old films don't really excite me unless they're different. I've seen so many identikit horrors, thrillers, etc, that I'm bored by a lot of old films because they seem samey.

The Oscar (1966) - an actual film about the actual Academy Awards, and not the "Awards Presentation Ceremony" featured in The Lonely Lady. Designed as a vehicle for Tony Bennett, this is in the category of "famous singer tries acting and fails". Astonishingly not based on a Robbins novel, but one by pulp writer Richard Sale, and with a script co-written by Harlan Ellison, of all people, it features Belfast's very own Stephen Boyd as someone who desperately wants to win the Best Actor award, but then loses to yer actual Frank Sinatra as himself. Weirdly, set in a world where Sinatra is himself, but Peter Lawford is playing someone else. It also has Bob Hope, Merle Oberon,  and other Hollywood sorts as themselves, Elke "How are your doings?" Sommer, Milton Berle, Joseph Cotten, etc. It's at times mind-numbingly awful, but sometimes, it gets unintentionally brilliant i.e. Bennett's narration. But it is something else.

Been watching a ton of Terence Hill and Bud Spencer movies (which are odd to say the least, syrupy tough-guy comedies. Charleston (1977), a Spencer-only joint is interesting. A Sting knock-off set and shot in 1970s London but with everyone in 1920s costumes to convince us otherwise, starring Herbert Lom, James Coco, and as Spencer's fellow gang members, Geoffrey Bayldon (RIP) and Ronald Lacey and featuring Peter Glaze, and copious amounts of Harp product placement.

I also caught the interesting George C Scott infection folly Rage, and Tippi Hedren-guest starring French ITC-ish TV nonsense Docteur Caraibes (from Telecip, makers of the films of Rene Laloux, 80s Channel 4 French soap Chateauvallon, coproducers of 1978 BBC panto-esque semi-musical period drama the Devil's Crown).

I also watched another French telefantasy, 1960s noirish ORTF series Belphegor - allegedly about a mummy, but as I was watching it unsubtitled, seemed to be an atmospheric but rather empty Maltese Falcon-ish thing. I also saw a 1973 French-Spanish-Italian miniseries of The Mysterious Island, cut for feature release, with threadbare Harry Towers-ish production values, a pseudo-steampunk set design,  lots of moaning in a balloon, an annoying kid dubbed by a man and not much going on, and Omar Sharif clearly looking for a paycheque as Captain Nemo, here portrayed as Verne later saw fit to retcon Nemo, as an Indian prince.

The Greek Tycoon (1978) - Directed by J. Lee Thompson, written and produced by Greek exploitation mogul Nico Mastorakis, Anthony Quinn once again plays a Greek, despite being an Irish-Mexican (basically, to quote Richard Herring, there are four types of race, "black, white, Chinese and those played by Nadim Sawalha", but Quinn could be used as an easy substitute), in this case Theo Tomasis, a Greek tycoon who is NOT Aristotle Onassis despite marrying Jacqueline Bisset as Elizabeth 'Lizzie T" Cassidy, former First Lady, married to the assassinated President James Cassidy (James Franciscus). This film is all kinds of strange. The aforementioned assassination isn't done in Dallas, but on a beach God knows where, possibly the Isle of Wight ()

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Robbins? Robbins!

Recently watched a few Harold Robbins adaps.

The ludicrous Stiletto (1969), where Alex "Archangel from Airwolf" Cord plays a Mafia assassin playboy who shags Britt Ekland and constantly visits an "Italy", i.e. Puerto Rico with a few Fiats, an Italian flag and a sign  saying "Italian poste", while chased by Patrick O'Neal and Roy Scheider. Features a character called "Hannibal Smith", not played by George Peppard, who alas, did appear in Robbins' Howard Hughes roman á clef The Carpetbaggers - "aka the one with the Money Programme theme, chandelier-dancing and a dying Alan Ladd as Nevada Smith". Smith, a half-Indian cowboy-turned-film star (and name inspiration for Indiana Jones) was played in the prequel by Steve McQueen, aged 35 playing 16, and people think he was old in the Blob...

Not as ludicrous as 1969's the Adventurers, intended to launch Yugoslavian Bekim Fehmiu as an international star, about a fictional Cinecitta-realised South American state of "Cortequay", where we see a skinny-dippying Ernest Borgnine seemingly cosplaying a Mexican Ted Bovis.  Quickly transforming from a childhood romance to a spaghetti western, and we see that director Lewis Gilbert, who hated directing this film for he lost out on Oliver! seems to forget where exactly Corteguay is, and introduces us to a who's who of Europudding vets, Fernando Rey, Rossano Brazzi, Charles Aznavour, Ferdy Mayne, etc. Overlong and seemingly about five films in one, you have to marinate in its weirdness.

Mayne also is in the Harold Robbins miniseries The Pirate (1978), "my favourite", according to Mrs. Hamilton in Fawlty Towers. In Robbins' view of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Franco Nero as an Israeli sold at birth by his dad Eli Wallach to Sheikh Christopher Lee, to an Arabia where Ian McShane and Armand Assante are natives. Features Olivia Hussey as Leila the terrorist and James Franciscus as "Dick Carriage",  and Hollywood doubling as Monte Carlo, Geneva, Israel, etc. Typical 70s network trash, punchily directed by Ken Annakin.

The Betsy (1978) is Robbins' view of the car industry, Featuring a confused chronology, 70-year-old Lord Olivier playing a dirty old car mogul, Loren "Number One" Hardeman from the age of forty to ninety, Robert Duvall as his grandson, Kathleen Beller as the titular Betsy, the great-granddaughter with a car named after,  Tommy Lee Jones romancing Lesley Anne Down as the wife of a race-driving Lord, a John Barry soundtrack and feels like a driving instruction video padded out by soap opera.

Monday, 3 April 2017

My problem with Brazil.

Okay, here is a confession. Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits has been one of my favourite films since I was eleven. But I tried watching his followup, Brazil years ago, and found it alienating. So I tried again...
BRAZIL I find an overblown mess. It's a film where visually it's glorious but there's no substance. There's no real likeable characters in it. You can tell Gilliam began in animation and was influenced by Mad magazine, but it becomes tiring, all this beautiful detail stuck onto a story which is frustrating, an incredible cast which is lost in the mass of detail and silly plotting. It's a place you want to go, but Sam Lowry's story is so meaningless. I can see why Universal wanted the film re-shot. The thing is Time Bandits is one of my favourite films, and that is a film where it is basically split into chunks, each chunk different to the other, different design, different cast, different atmosphere, and it works, with Brazil, everything's clashing, It'd make a great videogame, hours of exploring all that detail, but as a film, it stinks.

Most TVMs have the same bland dullness, even the likes of Cast A Deadly  Spell (1991)/WitchHunt (1994), Fatherland (1994), various ones starring the likes of Anthony Hopkins and Alan Arkin. HBO original films, as all these films are a mixed match, from the theatrically released likes of The Hitcher (1986) and Three Amigos (1987) to the straight-to-cable likes of Cold Room (1984) which resembles  an episode of Quantum Leap where Sam is played by Amanda Pays in a school uniform who has to leap into a girl who suffers incest from her Nazi butcher father played by Warren Clarke. The Cold Room features George Segal, who also appears in the Tales of the Unexpected-y HBO-BBC coproduction The Deadly Game (1982), where Trevor Howard and Robert Morley lead a cadre of elderly judges who try to put Segal on a fake trial in Switzerland. I've been watching a few. A few too grand to be boring, but not exciting enough like Alan Rickman's Rasputin (1996) or the Christopher Lloyd/John Heard-starring one about the Exxon Valdez disaster, directed by Paul "the Graff Vynda-K" Seed who started his career as a director, playing one in the swinging 60s "Blue Marigold" Tales of the Unexpected episode.
Hence the likes of:
"Sword of Gideon" (1986), a slow but engrossing Canadian CTV/HBO TVM based on the same book as Spielberg's Munich where Rod Steiger and Michael York (unconvincingly cast as a Belgian) and Lino Ventura hunt Black September from Paris to London (actual location footage) .
Mom and Dad Save The World (1992) where Teri Garr and Jeffrey Jones on their wedding anniversary are kidnapped by aliens and go to a planet where all the females are bipedal fish and the men bipedal dogs (as if to get known nonce Jones to get turned on by child-fish creatures as if bestilaity is better than paedophilia). Somewhere between daft and stupid. Colorful, inventive design but too silly for adults, despite Eric Idle appearing.
David Lynch's Hotel Room - bundle of incomprehensible weirdness - features Freddie Jones vs Harry Dean Stanton, and Crispin Glover romancing Alicia Witt (who I weirdly mistook as Bernadette Peters).
Citizen X - Stephen Rea, Max Von Sydow and Donald Sutherland try to pin down Soviet killer Andrei Chikatilo. Best thing is Rea's brilliant Ulster-Israeli-Russian-Chicago accent. Also features Imelda Staunton and Joss Ackland.
A Dangerous Life - coproduction with the Aussie ABC about the assassination of Filipino politician/First Man Ninoy Aquino, shot in the Philippines, starring Gary Busey, Filipino staples like Vic Diaz and being Aussie, Mr. Udagawa from Neighbours. Bland and soppy.
Even Joe Dante's The Second Civil War, despite that cast doesn't quite feel like a Dante movie, despite a strange portrayal of Pakistan.

Today, watched soppy, not as interesting as it sounds Burl Ives-guest starring Japanese-Bermudan Rankin/Bass giant turtle-themed tragic romance  the Bermuda Depths, bonkers but stretched-out Bette Davis as Lord Summerisle "witchy town" miniseries The Dark Secret of Harvest Home (1978) which should have been thirty minutes not three hours, interesting  1996 BBC-HBO true story Deadly Voyage (Sweaty Joss Ackland and a wonderfully seedy David Suchet play sadistic ship's crew who bump off African stowaways).

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Journey to the Centre of the Earth 1989

Watching Albert Pyun/Cannon's South African venture Journey to the Centre of the Earth 1988 - it begins in London full of fake snow and people in pith helmets, at "Nannies R US". Nicola Cowper (of TV's Dangerfield, ultra-gritty CBBC domestic abuse thriller Break In The Sun, Dennis Potter's Dreamchild and real-life sister of The Wicker Man's Gerry Cowper)  is sent off to a very white Hawaii with Table Mountain in the back, and discovers she's looking after a dog for a punk rocker. She teams up with two brothers to find something, and this disjointed mess results in armies of sub-Hensonian Rasta-Yetis, a micro-cameo from shrill-voiced American comedian and Bob Monkhouse favourite Emo Phillips wandering about in a Bet Lynch cast-off leopard skin coat and a sudden crossover with fellow Cannon junkyard hidden world movie Alien from L.A., also directed by Albert Pyun. A troubled production - and it shows, as it literally makes no sense. One scene, we're firing laser guns at rasta-yetis,  the next we're in a sort of Blade Runner-ish neon, sort of cyberpunk world(which turns out to be Atlantis) run by vampirish alien-obsessed Afrikaner albinos not unlike the Family in the Omega Man. Is either a sequel to or a prequel to Alien from L.A.  (lampooned on Mystery Science Theatre 3000), shot on the same sets and featuring a brief appearance by Kathy Ireland in her role from that film, but sadly unlike Alien from L.A., there is no Deep Roy. Apparently, original director Rusty Lemorande was fired, Pyun took over and then he himself got fired. it shows.    
Astonishingly not produced by Harry Alan Towers. We end with a sort of televised Atlantean Eurovision Song Contest that we never see.
Not to be confused with the 1993 TV pilot of the same name where F Murray Abraham dies at the beginning, and John Neville plays a fake-English countryside resident Doctor-type with a Holly/AOL woman-type floating hologram head in a bubble who leads an expedition to a hidden world full of Yetis called Dallas and becomes a ripoff of At The Earth's Core, even with similar monster makeup.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Hennessy (1975)

Hennessy (1975), one of the early last-ditch attempts by AIP to make a mainstream film, and one of their last UK productions is weird. Rod Steiger is the lead, as an IRA man with a not-very-good accent, but he's quieter than he usually was at this time, which isn't saying much. 1970s London, as rundown as it is looks too recognisable to be Belfast in most shots, though the terraced streets look right. Its when they show high street areas that it looks very London-ish, especially when the film moves to London playing itself (though the genuine shots of second unit Belfast could almost be London if not for the mountains peeking out behind). Eric Porter and Lee Remick's accents are a bit too Southern-inflected, though Eric Porter almost gets it. Ian Hogg is too Scottish. Patrick Stewart  appears as an IRA man. He has hair, but not much of it. He's balding, but still not quite the pure slaphead the world knows and love. His accent's terrible, but it was his first film. Stanley Lebor appears as an IRA man in the same sort of sweater he'd wear in Ever Decreasing Circles (and weirdly, Peter Egan appears too, though they share no scenes). David Collings is literally a leprechaun cabbie. Some of the funeral mourners sing God Save Ireland  out of tune. Basically, Steiger is a reformed IRA man whose wife and child (7 year old Patsy Kensit) are shot by Christopher "That's My Boy" Blake, as a British soldier. An interesting film, because it is so odd. A British film with a dissident IRA hero trying to blow up the Queen on her visit to the Houses of Parliament. Rod Steiger is Niall Hennessy (yes, they say it right), a former WW2 vet who served with Montgomery, then joined the IRA and now, fuelled by the accidental murder of his family by Mollie Sugden's boy, goes off to London, smuggled in by John Hallam (who was born in Ulster, but simply because his family were evacuated, he is one of two Irish actors in it - the other being  Fair City's Oliver Maguire) and Patrick Stewart (with a bizarre West Country-Yorkshire accent, but it was his first film), where he hides with his dead mate's non-love interest widow, the possibly Catholic-but-with-a-Protestant-name Kate Brooke, played by Lee Remick (sounding a bit Oirish and being far too Hollywood glam for a downtrodden Provo widow from East Belfast) . Eric Porter and the lads learn of Hennessy's plan, and realise that blowing up the Queen is a greater risk to Ireland, and chase him, while  Trevor Howard, Richard Johnson and Peter Egan of the Yard investigate, Johnson literally haunted by his time in Belfast as an RUC 'tec. Hennessy sits in Remick's house, where the BBC are somehow showing footage of the funeral of Mrs. Hennessy nationally, and not just on BBC Northern Ireland. Hennessy then decides to take on the identity of a popular Corbynesque MP who protests about the city outside the Albert Hall., trapping the real MP in his vest and underwear. Remick is killed by Porter and the lads.  On Hennessy's way, we begin to see the film's other controversial element - genuine footage of the Queen, her family (even the Duke of Kent), Archbishop Robert Runcie and the Paedo PM himself, Ted Heath from an old newsreel,  intercut with shots of a newsstand selling the Sun and the Daily Mail on Westminster Bridge. The film because of this use of footage got pulled from UK release, and yet the final scenes are the best bit. They are reminiscent of the similar VIP bloodbath of the Medusa Touch (also with Remick), and is efficiently shot by director Don Sharp. Johnson manages to foil the plan, and chases Hennessy out the door, before Hogg shoots Hennessy instead, and is carted away by coppers. However, Hennessy gets up, pleading, only for Johnson to shoot him again, and he blows up, a mushroom cloud descending over Westminster. Johnson wakes up, as God Save the Queen plays. A really interesting  film. Not for all the right reasons. It's laughable, especially if you're Irish, but has a weird sense of morbid charm.  And John Scott's score is nice. It feels similar to other Brit-actioners of the period, like The Black Windmill (1974) or Brannigan (1975). It feels similar to Day of the Jackal, but at least it has more energy than that film, and dare I say it, Steiger and the various bungling IRA men are more captivating protagonists than Edward Fox in a cravat turning his nose up at Paris.  but then again, I am Irish.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

TV movie-mania!

Did a marathon of Kolchak - the Night Stalker (1974-75) and the two preceding TV movies, The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973). I tried watching Kolchak a few years ago, and found it tonally all over the place. A little sweet here, a little sour there. Watched it again, and my opinion changed, I suppose. The two TV movies I hadn't really seen before and they're great - Darren McGavin is brilliant, world-weary, believable and likeable, and Simon Oakland as his boss, Vincenzo is great as this newspaper editor being forever stymied by the authorities. Dan Curtis produced both and took over from John Moxey to direct the second, and Richard Matheson adapted them from the book by Jeff Rice. Good cast. We're talking the likes of Carol Lynley, Elisha Cook, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins and Kent Smith (more on him later) in the Night Stalker, and in the Night Strangler - John Carradine as the wonderfully named Llewellyn Crossbinder and Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West herself as an old posh, rather sinister exposition-giver. The first film is set in Vegas, and Kolchak is a journalist who seeks out this series of murders, and no one believes him when he finds it's a vampire. It looks good, very cinematic, because it's shot on location, it doesn't have a sort of set-bound backlot TV aesthetic, like most TVMs. The vampire, Janos Skorzeny, played by Barry Atwater is interesting. Unlike Curtis' previous vampire, Barnabas Collins in "Dark Shadows", he's mute, very animalistic, similarly styled but he's not a suave creature, he's just out for blood. As the series shows, vampires in this universe seem to be humanoid but they're animal-minded, they're hissing anti-social creatures, bats in human bodies, essentially. The Night Strangler is similar, but they go for a different tack. Here, the titular menace is Richard Anderson, before his role as Oscar in the various Bionic series as a 144-year-old immortal alchemist lunatic strangling belly-dancers in Seattle, and man, Seattle looks great. They also shoot in the old Underground Seattle, of which I was previously not aware, which does exist - streets from before the Great Seattle Fire that now lie underground. And they are atmospheric, they're creepy, they're the perfect place to set such an idea. You also have good performances. Wally Cox's cameo is a strange, weedy little newspaper archivist is great, Curtis directs with flair, and it was again a hit, after the original broke all ratings records for a TV movie at the time. And ABC wanted a series, but Curtis wanted another movie, the Night Killers - which sounds great. Vincenzo and Kolchak are now in Hawaii, where polticians are being replaced by androids controlled by aliens who plan to use the subterfuge as a means of allowing an invasion to take place. Sadly, ABC got their way. Out goes Curtis and Matheson, in goes Universal, and we get Kolchak: the Night Stalker, wildly seen as one of the great sci-fi series, despite one series, an influence on the X-Files, and yet...
Kolchak: The Night Stalker just isn't as good. It's thankfully not as bland as McGavin's sub-Exorcist hounted house drivel "Something Evil", despite that film being directed by a certain Mr. Spielberg. McGavin and Oakland return, but everything else is different.  We're now in Chicago, which yes, is atmospheric, full of character, but it gets samey. I wish they could have changed it, so every episode, we're in a new locale. Because now in the series, Chicago is a Hellmouth-ish magnet for all sorts of weirdness. We have new characters. We get a camp, waspish rival named Uptight Updyke, a sweet old lady columnist named Emily/Edith (it depends on the episode) and Keenan Wynn as a recurring cop. And yes, it has a great cast of guests - the likes of Scatman Crothers with a bad Haitian accent, Mary Wickes as a scientist, Tom Skerritt as two monsters and Phil Silvers amongst others.

Sameyness is a problem. Too many of the villains are mute stalkers, be it an immortal Jack the Ripper (again memories of "The Night Strangler"), a spiritual force, a killer robot (created by a female scientist named Leslie Dwyer, whom everyone thinks is male, presumably because of her Hi-De-Hi! star namesake), a female vampire, a zombie, a werewolf, et cetera. Climaxes are usually at night, with brief glimpses of the monster, and usually, the monsters have cool designs. And there's a lot of sinister female, attractive but evil characters, including Dark Shadows' own Lara Parker basically reprising her Angelique character, Cathy Lee Crosby as a Greek Hecate-worshipper (hence as exposition guy, George Demosthenes Savalas - Kojak meets Kolchak) amongst others. There are some interesting ideas, a Bedknobs and Broomsticks-style walking suit of armour, and the episode "The Horror in the Heights" is probably the most fun. A neighbourhood full of elderly people is being targeted by some unspeakable horror. Swastika are appearing all over the place, Abraham Sofaer has opened up an Indian restaurant inside this mostly Jewish area, and Phil Silvers appears post-Follow That Camel as one of the residents. It turns out Sofaer is in town to hunt down the Rakshasa, a Hindu spirit which takes on the form of those its victim trusts, i.e. cops, husbands, wives, milkmen, hates Swastikas and can only be killed by crossbow. It is a fun episode, and perhaps it shows that Kolchak really should have had him touring the world. Imagine, Gargoyles in Paris, leprechauns, banshees and IRA men in Ireland, the Lambton Worm... A missed opportunity.

I was also watching Dan Curtis' Dracula (1974). Shot in Britain, it looks lovely, with some additional shooting in Yugoslavia. Palance brings some menace, Nigel Davenport is good as Van Helsing, the design and cinematography by Oswald Morris is better than some Hammer stuff, and yet it pre-empts the whole Coppola thing, i.e. Vlad the Impaler, the "Dark Shadows"-ish idea of reincarnation of a lost love in the form of Mina, and even the title - "Bram Stoker's Dracula". It feels lacking. Dracula should be more beastly. And Mina and Lucy are miscast, slightly too old. Simon Ward looks a bit lost. But John Challis, before his fame as Boycie in "Only Fools and Horses" makes a cameo. He told me on Twitter that Dan Curtis was nice to him, during their brief time on set together.

Talking about Kent Smith, I was watching, perhaps re-watching on the recommendation of Matthew Coniam, Curtis Harrington's The Cat Creature (1973). It's a TV movie from the period, and slightly more archetypal of the genre. It's set bound, it's full of ageing, past-it names (Gale Sondergaard, Keye Luke, John Carradine again, Keye Luke) and younger but still fairly veteran figures like Stuart Whitman and David Hedison. It begins with Kent Smith, thirty years after his role as "Oliver Reed" in Cat People (1942), finally being killed by a cat-lady, or a cat that jumps out of a sarcophagus, because this is a TV movie and they don't have the budget for full-body costumes (see 1977's Snowbeast for a Yeti conveyed through some close-ups, hairy hands and lots of POV). We learn that this is Meredith Baxter, before her sitcom fame in "Family Ties", as a mysterious, attractive young woman named Rena who has some weird connection to an amulet. It's fun. And the ending with Baxter swooping about in Egyptian dress, camping it up, with bat-wing sleeves is something to be witnessed.

Similar is the Aaron Spelling-produced Cruise into Terror (1978) which cashes on Bermuda Triangle mania, The Omen and disaster movies. Dirk Benedict, John Forsythe (as a priest in a bitter, sexless marriage with Lee "Lily Munsters Today/Catwoman #2" Meriwether), Christopher and Lynda Day George, Ray Milland (as an archaeologist who believes the Egyptians went to Mexico and helped the Aztecs), Stella Stevens (in one of several post-Poseidon maritime terror roles, see also The French Atlantic Affair) and Hugh O'Brian are among the cast of luminaries, finding in the Gulf of Mexico, Milland's treasured Egyptian-Aztec tomb, which we learn contains the Antichrist born the same day as Jesus, in suspended animation. It's slow. TV movies work better as 75 minuters not 90 minuters/2 hours including ad breaks. It takes over a half an hour for the treasure hunt to begin and almost an hour for the tiny papier mache sarcophagus to be recovered. It is also full of POV shots, evil suggested by huge red lights/eyes. Milland and Forsythe are the highlights, arguing over exposition and following the trail of "Sir Richard Littenhurst". The insidious child carries out Omen-ish drownings, causes women to go mad, and it peters out with an inferno and narration by Forsythe asking us if there is a Devil... Shoddy, ropey, sporadically fun, and with a proper Goldsmith knockoff for its score, all sub Ave-Satani chanting over what sounds like knock-off Bela Bartok.

I also watched a bit of Dan Curtis' similar Curse of the Black Widow, with Patty Duke (Harrington's first choice for the Cat Creature) as a spider-woman, but it was 100 minutes, which for a TV movie of that style, a bit of a chore.

TV movies of the suspense/horror genre I do enjoy. Some can be samey, i.e. Taste of Evil - a remake of Hammer's Taste of Fear with Barbara Parkins, Roddy McDowall and a rifle-toting Barbara Stanwyck being terrorised by unlikely rapist Arthur O'Connell, or all those post-Carrie teenage girl ones e.g. The Spell (1977), Shelley Winters sorority witch yoke The Initiation of Sarah (1978) Wes Craven/Linda Blair/Lois Duncan joint Summer of Fear (1978), a film which has a clever twist where we think Lee Purcell as Blair's cousin is just your average US TV teen played by a 30-year-old, but isn't - and the Dennis Quaid/teen date rape Afterschool Special-y antics of Channel 5 favourite "Are You Alone In The House?" (1978).

The weirder ones are usually the better, i.e. 1973's Scream Pretty Peggy - Bette Davis as a woman "who never learnt to bake"  keeps mad daughter Jennifer apparently locked up in house under pretence she's in "Europe".  Peggy, an eager, ultra-plucky slightly annoying art student comes to work as housekeeper. Loaded guns are kept in drawers. Davis tries to get Peggy out, even though she's besotted with her idol, who just happens to be Davis' sculptor son (Marge Simpson's dream-husband Ted Bessell) who spends all day making statues of Lovecraftian monsters. We think it is going to be a sort of distaff Beast in the Cellar via House of Wax...
 Except Jennifer's being impersonated Psycho-style by Jeffrey in a wig and nightie, gets shot by Mum and is crushed by one of his own statues, which turns out to be Jennifer encased in amber. It turns out that he killed Jennifer, because he was in an incestuous relationship with her and she was engaged to someone else, and had to kill all his girlfriends because "Jennifer" wouldn't let him go. Davis blames herself, . Written by Jimmy Sangster and Directed by Gordon Hessler. Fun, suitably ridiculous and suitably played.

The House That Would Not Die is 1970, pre-Exorcist, but has Kitty Winn from that film as the young lead. Has Stanwyck dressed like the Don't Look Now dwarf while Richard Egan attacks her with a knife. Possession means you talk in an English accent. It's mostly long seance scenes, and kind of watchable.

Spelling-produced slasher Home for the Holidays (1972) where Jill Haworth (with dyed black hair), Eleanor Parker  and Sally Field as the various daughters of Walter Brennan are terrorised by a killer in a sou'wester. Julie Harris appears as housekeeper/second wife who everyone thinks is the murderer, because she poisoned her last husband or something, around the time she became the USA's Hylda Baker in Thicker than Water, short-lived adaptation of Nearest and Dearest. Overdone meldorama, again like House That Would Not Die by John Moxey. There's also a crazy woman-child, and lots of red herrings. It's kind of fun, but like a lot of these films, slightly too full of arguments between ageing starlets and/or up and comers who not always went onto better.

Watched others - The Devil's Daughter -where Shelley Winters (as Lilith) and Abe Vigoda arrange marriage for a young woman and play Poundland Castevets who cry "you are your father's daughter". Robert Foxworth plays youthful hero. does a dry run for his role in Damien: Omen II. Jonathan "Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows" Frid plays the servant/fiancee. It's sensationalist enough to be watchable. Directed by Jeannot Szwarc.
Also saw bits of Winters' "daughter in prison" weepie "A Death of Innocence" by Joseph Stefano.It didn't catch my attention.
How Awful About Allan (1970) - starring Anthony Perkins, basically feels like a pilot for a 1970s TV series - The Adventures of Norman Bates, i.e. Psycho reduced to a bland 70s cop show aesthetic. Kent Smith appears again. He seems to crop up everywhere.
Then, there's also duff phone-calls-from-the-dead rope When Michael Calls (1972) with Ben Gazzara as "Doremus Connolly" and "Special Guest Star" Michael Douglas, at the beginning of his career  when he was still just Kirk's son. It's slightly creepy and the denouement is suitably daft, but like a lot of these films, bland, similar to the likes of Dean Stockwell-vs-teacher Jane Wyman "The Failing of Raymond", 1972's The Screaming Woman - which is 78 minutes of Olivia De Havilland screaming back at a screaming woman buried alive, She Waits (1972) with Patty Duke terrorising David McCallum, Along Came A Spider where Suzanne Pleshette dons a bizarre fur-hat/blond wig to enact revenge, the "trapped alone" likes of The Victim (1972), that John Carpenter one the name of which escapes me, etc.  Usually, everything is boiled down to generica.

Killer Bees (1974) has Gloria Swanson with three layers of headwear, hat, headcsarf, Princess Leia buns. Highlight is a scene where bees rise out of a coffin and attack a funeral mid-sermon -  "land of milk and honey". Otherwise quite bland. It's about bee-human hybrids and features less desert-based bee-car chases than the dire "town under attack" Savage Bees (with Ben Johnson fighting bees after fighting locusts with Katherine Helmond and Ron Howard in the not-very-horror-y "Waltons meets James Herbert" period drama Locusts!) and its Swarm cash-in sequel Terror Out of the Sky, which features Efrem Zimbalist running the "National Bee Center".

Also watched Kate Jackson in slow steel-drum soundtracked "fake travel company" 10 Little Indians on a cruise Death Cruise (1974) and Death at Love House (1972) where Jackson and Robert Wagner, investigating the latter's father's ex-lover, long-dead Golden Age Hollywood queen/witch Lorna Love meet the likes of John Carradine, Joan Blondell, Dorothy Lamour and Sylvia Sidney. Needless to say, Lorna Love isn't long-dead. It's entertaining for it old Hollywood tribute, shot in Harold Lloyd's house too.

Killdozer (1974) was okay, not weird enough, felt like a bad day at my dad's workplace. I read a comic based on the original story - about a killer bulldozer posessed by alien influence, and seeing bunch of a middle-aged has-been blokes in a quarry needs more energy, really.

Devil Dog Hound of Hell (1978) features Martine Beswicke leading a cult who look like the Family from the Omega Man but fresh. Richard Crenna, Yvette Mimieux and the Witch Mountain kids adopt cursed puppy. Family start painting satanic pictures, and the dog doesn't appear in its horned form till the end, in the night. It's very Kolchakesque, as in the series not the TV films. So not as good as the artwork, though the end has a great shot - of superimposed flames around the dog. A lot of these films only get watchable at the end, i.e. Satan's School For Girls.

Watching 1972's Gargolyes - Bernie Casey quite creepy as the lead 'goyle. Wonder did his performance influence the cartoon? And the flying effects are quite cool in their tattiness- looks like being carried by a raven Father Ted-style. better than the myriad "woodlands/desert chase, usually with moon in the title" TV films it nearly resembles, that I found samey, mainly because despite being Irish, I'm not a western fan. 

Monday, 6 March 2017

What I have been watching.

Billion Dollar Brain (1967) is weird, again I mentioned my problem with Ken Russell. And this almost works, but it's the disassociation between visuals and characters, it's wonderfully shot, especially the surreal tankers and soldiers and eggs climax on the ice, but it all feels shallow, like a caper comedy from the period. All caricatures. Caine is playing a bad impression of himself, Ed Begley somehow doesn't go over the top enough, or maybe he does, and Russell doesn't focus on it. I find a lot of post-Bond spy thrillers kind of cold, e.g. the Quiller Memorandum, etc. The other Palmer movies never did much for me. They pass a Saturday afternoon, but no more. They feel like they should be slightly trippier.
And I was also watching Day of the Jackal, which is ruined by Edward Fox's cravatted, unlikeable bullyboy snob of a protagonist.
The Odessa File is better, and it has the hauntingly merry Perry Como-Lord Snooty theme, "Christmas Dream". Apparently remade as a fan-film by the Containment/Forest of Light's Scott Jeschke, who like my friend Jason Wallace knows Maria Breese.

Also watching MacKenna's Gold, which is overlong, laughably cast - with the likes of Omar Sharif, Ted "Lurch" Cassidy and Julie "Catwoman" Newmar as Native Americans, etc.

Been on an Ozploitation kick. I like the sort of widescreen style of a lot of those films.

Snapshot (1979) - Simon Wincer/Tony Ginnane's rather ropey slasher with two almost identical female leads, a cast made up mainly of actresses from Prisoner: Cell Block H, a killer in an ice cream van, as with almost of all this genre, a nice score by Australia's Ronnie Hazlehurst, Brian "not that one, the other one" May. Ginnane was behind this, plus the great Patrick, Strange Behaviour, Brian Trenchard Smith's Turkey Shoot, the Survivor and even 1995's Screamers, arty nonsensical "aliens take football trophy" movie Incident at Raven's Gate (1988) and daft New Zealand period thriller Mesmerized with Jodie Foster, Harry Andrews and John Lithgow going Kiwi.

Thirst (1979) - Ginnane-produced, May-scored, rather clever modern day vampire film. About possible relations to Elisabeth Bathory, being haunted by gothic dreams, then abducted by a New World Order-ish cult who live in a castle among green fields on the edge of the bush, headed by David Hemmings and Henry Silva, and keep blood cows, i.e. humans whom they attach to milking machines and drain them of blood. The setting is brilliantly designed, resembling an actual dairy. Lovely scene where tourists are guided around "the dairy", taking snips of blood cows/calves, all upright, eyes wide open.The sacrifice/blood-drinking scenes, with everyone in evening dress are also quite striking. Nice twist ending.

Harlequin (1980) -  Again directed by Simon Wincer and produced by Tony Ginnane, Senator "Ellie" Steele, a prominent politician based on Aussie prime minister Harold Holt vanishes at sea. David Hemmings is groomed as replacement. Robert Powell plays a modern Rasputin/Jesus figure/magician in various costumes (i.e. a Mittel European doctor, a clown, a Jesus, a Leo Sayer) who heals Hemmings' son (as usual with most child stars of the era, one of the kids in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome). Hemmings is in an arranged stunt marriage the son has been born into, as a sort of symbol of unity, the idea being that this is a modern version of the fall of Imperial Russia.  Set in a weird Mid-Atlantic netherworld with Governors, generic capitals and characters with either quasi-British/Australian accents or quasi-American accents (mainly American-Australian Gus Mercurio), a TV shows the BBC test-card (apparently as much a fixture down under), stations have regional American-style names with lots of disjointed letters, and the kid is voiced, in British film tradition, by a woman. Interesting film. Inventive scenes including a psychokinetic drowning scene, lots of computer text on screens, and a captivating plot. Rather underrated. Apparently, the lead role was intended for David Bowie, but producers met him and got cold feet. However, Powell is great, and the publicity cashed in on his fame as TV's Jesus of Nazareth, by prepping the idea of him being a new messiah.

Dark Age (1987) - That man Ginnane again. Aussie croc goes on rampage, eating Aborigine kids. Interesting but rather overlong film. Clever twist in that three quarters of the way in, the croc is captured, as it is an endangered breed, and then escapes. Features Ray "Alf from Home & Away" Meagher with a tache.
Been watching rather boring likes of Blood Beach (1980) and the utterly ridiculous, slightly fun Italian Jaws-off, Great White (1981), where James Franciscus has to emote over an eerily bisected Vic Morrow (bad Scottish accent and all, as the Quint) while a big rubber shark groans at him, a shark that is also represented with a very cheesy, fake-looking fin that one expects to be revealed as a sort of Bart Simpson: Shark-Boy type joke.

Watched Penda's Fen (1974) - arty Play for Today, didn't do anything for me, perhaps as it is saddled with an annoying, camp hero, played by Spencer Banks of ITV Doctor Who rival "Timeslip". It is sort of like an Anglia TV Raul Ruiz, e.g. City of Pirates, Treasure Island & bits of Three Crowns but without the feel of weird dubbed kids TV that Ruiz's films tend to have, yet somehow get even weirder than the likes of The Legend of Tim Tyler, etc.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

What I've been watching.

Watching Night Gallery knock-off William Castle's Ghost Story. Sebastian Cabot's intros as a sinister hotel owner called Winston Essex are nice, but they're dropped once the series becomes "Circle of Fear" and gets more boring. Apart from the one with Martin Sheen and the fairground horse, it's dull. It's all 70s-set stories, all the same "family move into new house", like the lesser Night Galleries, but it doesn't have the weird mix of period stories and adaptations of Basil Copper and Dulcie Gray. The John Astin one where he plays a former B-movie actor turned security guard has a few interesting ghoulish effects and a slight atmosphere but it gets bogged in sentiment. And some attempt atmosphere but are kind of silly, i.e. Rip Torn badly done up as a creepy singing pensioner, which is perhaps more disturbing unintentionally. Jimmy Sangster rips off the Night Gallery Eyes story, for an episode, which features the reliable Mancunian Don Knight, always worth it for being really, the only Northern English accent in US TV in the 70s. But otherwise, disappointing.

I like to look for weirder things. I was expecting something slightly more off the wall for a William Castle TV series, but it is 70s TV...

Also been watching Clochemerle, the Galton and Simpson BBC series. I find it pleasing but not particularly funny. It's got great performers, Cyril Cusack, Kenneth Griffith, Roy Dotrice, but it feels slightly too mannered, and slightly  twee. Peter Ustinov's narration is lovely, but it just doesn't really click with me.

I've also been watching V: the original Miniseries and the 1984 sequel The Final Battle, which were in the UK/Ireland, shown as one on ITV against the Olympics in 1984. Really enjoyable, I haven't watched the "Dynasty meets Red Dawn" sequel because although it was the most expensive
I found it interesting for a 80s miniseries, especially one so expensive, as it doesn't really have any star actors used for TVQ, a lot of familiar faces appear e.g. Michael Ironside being awesome as a mercenary named Ham Tyler and a pre-Freddy Robert Englund, but no one apart from I guess who was a top ratings magnet, possibly Marc Singer, but even the Beastmaster had done only adequately, and was on the cusp of being a cable regular.  The notorious lizard-baby looks like a post-Garbage Pail Kid deliberately gross kid's toy. The balloon scenes are interesting, although I wish that they focused more on the international side, which the spin-off books do (including one amazing-sounding one set in Britain and Ireland, where the Visitor Commander is called Ian, the Visitors infiltrate the Royal Family, characters are called Lord Fotheringay and Nigel Smythe-Walmsley, Visitors take over TVC, and the Resistance are headed by Patrick Seamus Kelly and the Provisional IRA, aided by Muslim terrorists based in Kerry, who use stolen Skyfighters to attack the Mothership over London).

The Ice Pirates (1984) I found fun. Ron Perlman, Anjelica Huston, Robert Urich, John "Sloth in the Goonies" Matuszak and others are literally space pirates searching for water in a weird future full of mock-medieval touches e.g. space templars in chainmal, US-based British actors, John Carradine so old that he spends all his scenes on a stretcher, and Mary "I shot J.R." Crosby (co-star of TV's Dick Turpin, fact-fans!) as a space princess with a nanny. Interesting post-Star Wars riff, with interesting segues into post-apocalyptic desert races and an interesting twist. Great soundtrack that begins as sort of sub-swashbuckly John Morris-in-Yellowbeard fare, but goes more synthy and 80s sci-fi, as it goes along. One of the  piratesploitation flop boom, eg the likes of unofficial Robert Shaw ITC swashbuckler spinoff Scarlet Buccaneer (1976), The Pirate Movie (1982), Savage Islands (1983), Yellowbeard (1983), and Cutthroat Island (1995)...

I've also been tasting bits of drama from the BBC, and realised  those too stylised post-Dennis Potter TV series eg She-Devil, Dead Head, etc. are not for me. But The Old Men At The Zoo (1983) is good. It is interesting, not quite as annoyingly pleased itself as the likes of A Very Peculiar Practice or any Tom Sharpe adap, got a fab cast and it is a very British dystopia/apocalypse, and it's set in a zoo for extra quirkiness. And it's prescient of Trump, to boot, with a fake USA with Bruce Boa and Robert "the Ambassador in the Final Conflict" Thorn hosting NBC, TVC in all its glory for Maurice Denham's country music themed Attenborough Lecture.  Seeing someone as distinguished as Robert Morley in something shot on cheap BBC VT is disconcerting. And then the bomb goes off, and Troy Kennedy Martin goes into brilliantly bleak Edge Of Darkness mode and Stuart Wilson is aged by the blast. Marius Goring becomes a Yeti-insignia-waving fascist leader using people in zoos, due to the shortage of animals, an idea not unlike the apes-as-dogs in Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes, before the zoo becomes a concentration camp.

I've also realised I've watched possibly enough Quincy, Bergerac, Lovejoy, Hart To Hart, The Incredible Hunk, any of the Bionic series, Lois and Clark, Hercules/Xena, A Touch of Frost, Inspector Morse, Midsomer Murders,The A-Team, Dempsey And Makepeace, Knight Rider, Airwolf, etc.

Tried watching Max Headroom but found it annoying in its cyberpunk posturing. Slightly too late 80s for my liking.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Fu Manchu - the early years

Watching the early Warner Oland Fu Manchus with Anna May Wong as Fah Lo Suee, in sound but still early enough to be rooted in the silent era. Fresh from A Study In Scarlet with Reginald Owen as some blandly English bloke in a fedora called Sherlock Holmes who doesn't really act like Sherlock Holmes, Wong is rather theatrical and goes from bland glamourpuss to angry proto-Rita Repulsa from Power Rangers. Oland's Fu surely the inspiration for Hnup Wan in One Of Our Dinosaurs is Missing, coming across as a headmaster in a school pantomime, less sinister than Karloff's freakish Carmen Miranda-hatted mutant and Christopher Lee's sinister mastermind. Some of the Chinese characters resemble Irish priests more than actual Asian people, such is the film's strange depiction of the Orient. The films, though pre-code feel less grand than Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) with Karloff and lack that film's weird sexual undertones and excitement in torture (and the ending that fifty years later was stolen by a certain Spielberg and Lucas for their own pulp adventure, Raiders of the Lost Ark). Being backlot-bound and grainy,  rather pedestrian productions, they even lack the perilous setpieces (with cameos by my grandad) of the Harry Alan Towers-Lee series (in such exotic locales as Hong Kong, Turkey, Spain and the Powerscourt Arms, Enniskerry) and the psychotronic travelogue tat-glamour of Jess Franco's sequels. The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu (1929), directed by Son of Frankenstein's Rowland V. Lee has more adventure and excitement (well more exciting than say, the Bulldog Drummond films of the same era and the aforementioned bloody Reginald Owen Sherlock), looks quite exotic and expensive and feels at times like some weird propaganda film from Shang-Ri-La. They are quite ropey,  with characters at one point I swear saying things like a "great big chink" and camp chatter about bloodhounds. The Lee helmed-Return Of Fu Manchu I haven't found, and is apparently more of the same again helmed by Lee, but less.  Petrie is played in the first two of the films by Neil Hamilton after his work with D.W. Griffith and before his roles in the Tarzan movies as Jane's other bloke, and long before he played Comm. Gordon in Batman, his voice unchanged forty years later, and my Wold Newton-ish tendency to connect pulp heroes makes me wonder what if Gordon is actually an old Petrie, who moved to the US, changed his name to get shat of the Si-Fan and then found himself tackling weirder baddies. The last of the trilogy,Daughter of the Dragon (1931) is more like  a parlour room drama with odd moments of pulpish peril than pure pulp adventure, ie there's just Petrie (now Bramwell Fletcher), no Nayland Smith (played by O.P. "the blind hermit" Heggie in the first two) and Sessue Hayakawa appears as some sort of vague love interest.

The films are ropey and not very good, to be honest, unlike Mask and the Lee films, even the beguiling messes of Franco's duo. I haven't seen Paramount on Parade, the 1933 revue/proto-Comic Relief with Oland's Fu facing off among a cabal of 'tecs, including Clive Brook's fedora-hatted Third Doctor-ish gadget man Sherlock (this time, not sided by his regular sidekick, Watson, in the 1933 Brook Sherlock Holmes, incarnated in the form of Reginald Owen).

But these three Paramount-Oland ones are interesting for showing the debt Hollywood paid to British genre/pulp fiction in its early years, with this and the various HG Wells adaptations and British-based horrors. Though even in the UK, they were making the gloriously visual but rather staid likes of Things to Come, the lost-up-its-own-whimsy The Man Who Could Work Miracles and the Tunnel and myriad identical quickies based on Wallace or Sexton Blake, Hollywood were churning out rival productions, i.e. see the two Gaslights, the competing runs of Sherlock Holmes and Bulldog Drummond mysteries. After all, technically King Kong is an Edgar Wallace mystery...

Clive Brook's Sherlock Holmes (1932) is actually much more interesting. It has a creepy carnival setting, feels quite modern in style, has Holmes disguised as an old dear who smokes a pipe, and a Cockernew-Yorker Billy the Pageboy.

Monday, 20 February 2017

My Ken Russell problem

I am not much of a fan of Ken Russell. His early movies are visual eye candy, filled with British character actors. I'm not really a classical music fan, it's pleasant enough but I don't get off it the way he did, so his biopics don't really interest me much. The Devils has Ollie Reed at his finest, a man presumably a regular in Russell's films because of their resemblance to each other.  Tommy sort of works, and it sort of resembles at times a really twisted episode of Hi-De-Hi, down to that sort of Ben Aris outside a holiday camp. By the time of the 80s, they get rather close to erotic Skinemax territory, eg Crimes of Passion and his Vestron era is rather pretty and vapid, again filled with people off the telly. Even putting Stratford Johns in the middle of a carnival of debauchery is not enough to sate this viewer's boredom.  And Gothic has Julian Sands AND Gabriel Byrne, who somehow broke out of Irish soap stardom via Excalibur, and he wasn't the only Irish soap actor in Excalibur. His Excalibur/Glenroe costar Emmett Bergin's a better actor, but it was his brother Patrick who got the chance to hit the big time, sorry for going off-topic, this is going to not make a
Back to Ken, The Lair of the White Worm (19888) is different, because it is a sort of straightforward horror, and it's set in Derby. And it has Morris dancing and the words "special appearance by Stratford Johns" and Peter Capaldi in the first of several audition piece roles for a certain Time Lord. I had seen clips, but didn't realise it was set in the present (well, sort of, the cars are all 50s and so is Hugh 'effin Grant's uniform), and because there were so few British horrors made in the 80s and fewer set concurrently in modern Britain, and I've always preferred those set near enough to the present than those set in period.
Catherine Oxenberg, professional Princess Diana impersonator, real-life Yugoslavian royalty and fictional Princess Consort of Moldavia is slightly too polished, too Transatlantic for the role of a working class Derby farmgirl, so Ken tries to get away with this by dressing her up as skanky as possible in some scenes. She also sounds like she's trying to do a Brian Glover impression. Her on-screen sister, Sammi Davis comes across like the hero of a children's drama serial, and it begins okay with Capaldi, but the whole Amanda Donohoe/Hugh Grant stuff is miserable, resembling a big ad campaign for a foreign holiday company. I prefer the whole archaeological stuff. It feels more typical "British horror" and Capaldi doing his best Cushing-ish "making of the most of exposition" turn, which of course is something you need when you get to be the Doctor. And Stratford Johns' good as the "balding fright-wigged" butler, and Paul Brooke almost steals the show as the jaded PC who when bitten is attacked by Capaldi with bagpipes. And the Lambton worm resembles a phallic Sarlacc pit-ish thing (incidentally, Brooke was the Rancor keeper in Return of the Jedi).
White Worm is enjoyable at times, when it most resembles a normal horror film.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

St. Trinian's

Image result for belles of st trinians
Watched the Belles of St. Trinians  - Alistair Sim and George Cole save it, the former's scenes with himself in female drag brilliantly done, Sim convincing so much as Miss Fritton that one forgets it is Sim in drag. I find the titular overaged schoolgirls a load of insufferable bints, especially the actual child ones, awfully precocious child actresses. Even my dad's idol, George Cole can't seem to find his niche. He's good as always, but at times, you think he's just doing it as a nice little earner.
 The other films I remember being pants, mainly an excuse for cheesecake with top British comic talent shoehorned in, basically a PG-rated precursor to the 70s sex comedy boom, though 1966's The Great St. Trinian's Train Robbery has some quirks, including the characters reading a "now a major film" tie-in copy of Harold Robbins' Carpetbaggers, Cole seems slightly more engaged, there seems to be an enthusiasm about the production and it has Frankie Howerd playing a dad who's a hairdresser, but still a working dad, which he almost manages to convince as. And it is, unlike the others in the proper canon in colour, which lends it a zip and a bright visual flourish not unlike the Carry Ons for the same period, and replacing Beryl Reid and Hermione Baddeley with Dora Bryan is a masterstroke, because Bryan is at times like a Fly-like teleportation accident melding of the former two.
The later films are muck. The 1980 film The Wildcats of St. Trinian's I have seen clips of, I couldn't stand it. Joe Melia replaces Cole, now in his "Minder" phase of his career, and Sheila Hancock's headmistress, even though it does have the likes of Maureen Lipman and Julia McKenzie as teachers plus Rodney Bewes in a turban and dear old Michael Hordern and future reality TV staple Lisa Vanderpump and Alex Kingston (before her presence turned  "Doctor Who: the Welsh Series" from a US syndicated-style bit of sometimes pleasing, sometimes excruciating telepap to an even slushier romcommish mess) as some of the titular Wildcats. But it is one of those forgotten films of that overlooked period of shoddy British genre films, e.g. the era of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, the Monster Club, Silver Dream Racer, The Boys in Blue, Who Dares Wins, Bullshot, Bloodbath at the House of Death, Don't Open Till Christmas, The Wild Geese II, Water, Morons From Outer Space, Jane And The Lost City, Whoops Apocalypse, all those Michael Caine Thatcherite thrillers, the load of bull that were the starring vehicles of Julie Walters, possibly Slayground...
And as for the NuTrinian's with Rupert Everett as Camilla Parker Bowles, time will tell. It will fit into that 2000s era of "shoddy British movies", you know, amidst the work of Edgar Wright, there was still this shite being produced - not just Richard Curtis' Guest House Paradiso, Kevin and Perry Go Large, The Martins (that one with Lee Evans and Kathy Burke in the Isle of Man, used to appear on Sky Movies Max a lot, remember Sky Movies Max?), Conspiracy of Silence*, The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse, The Dark Is Rising, I Love Candy (another Nu-Ealing joint), Mitchell and Webb's Magicians, Lesbian Vampire Killers, Demons Never Die, all those post-Ritchie, post-Dyer gangster-themed Poundland filler e.g. the oeuvre of Jonathan Sothcott, Richard Driscoll's all-star vanity tax cheats, Simoncowellsploitation eg Pudsey the Dog's movie and that Paul Potts movie with James Corden, etc.

*Too much for a bracket, Conspiracy of Silence features an all-star Irish and British cast in a tale of suicidal AIDS-ridden priests and a war against celibacy, featuring Brenda Fricker as an Irish mammy, Harry Towb and Jimmy Ellis as Galwegian Belfastmen, Hugh Bonneville struggling with an Irish accent, Jim Norton reprising his role from Bishop Brennan from Father Ted, Gaybo as himself presenting the sort of Daily Politics-y hard-hitting current affairs-themed afternoon discussion program that RTE would never make and Cornwall playing Galway. And Chris O'Dowd, a Roscommon man doing an Oirish culchie accent as a Galway-based seminary student. Surely, his own accent would be suffice. A Roscommon priest studying in Galway is normal, the counties are beside each other, for christ's sake.  It's basically a sort of Irish equivalent of a Larry Buchanan exposé movie or Larry Cohen's J. Edgar Hoover film. It's so gloriously awful that I do try to recommend it to people. It's a sort of Irish tabloid exposé with blood, sex, it's a proper Irish exploitation film.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Non-British Rubbish

I was going to write a review of Frank Sinatra heist movie "Assault On A Queen", a doomed Hollywood effort for Black British actor Errol John (Rudolph Walker's mentor), but nah, I'm not really into heist movies bar The Italian Job. They are formulaic and similar (even look at the posters for Gambit and How To Steal a Million) and this case the difference is it is set on the Queen Mary, filled with Hollywood-based Brits.

The Worzel book has come out and I get thanked for contributing research -

I've been watching bits and bobs of US soaps for influence. I had an idea for a sort of spoof serial, a sort of Two Ronnies-ish soap opera.
I was watching Dark Shadows, only bits. The idea of watching a thousand episodes of cheap 1960s shot on video TV is slightly intimidating, because it's a series that spends fifty episodes on one very crazy plotline. Shot on videotape TV is odd. I grew up in Ireland on British/Irish TV, which was mostly shot on video until the late 1980s. But Dark Shadows is American, and it is NTSC videotape, which looks cheaper and shoddier, and hence why all late 1980s TV shows now look ropey as string because they were edited on NTSC tape, hence why Victory at Entebbe despite its colossal cast looks even worse than a Play for Today, and looks like... well an episode of Dark Shadows.
But Dark Shadows in the brief form I have seen it has sort of enthralled me. People have called it a sort of US equivalent of Doctor Who in its shoddy ambitiousness, though like Who, people started on it, e.g. Dick Smith before his job on The Exorcist. Barnabas sort of leaves me cold. Jonathan Frid's style is slightly too mannered (although I recently discovered he was in the 1961 US TVM of Dorian Gray with John Fraser's Dick Smith makeup, George C. Scott, Star Trek green girl Susan Oliver, Louis Hayward, Robert Walker Jr, Paxton Whitehead and future Emmerdale's Frank Tate, Norman Bowler)). Thayer David, though I find entrancing in all his Charles Gray-esque glory. David I knew from his roles in The Eiger Sanction as albino Nazi "Dragon" and as Sacknussem in the 50s Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. He's quite Doctorish as Prof. Stokes (he in real life shared a wife with Jon's brother Michael Pertwee) and pantorific magnificence as Count Petofi whose hand gets revived by mad gypsy Magda played by Grayson Hall (alias regular Dr. Julia Hoffman). If I ever get into Irish soap writing, I'll try to make it more ridiculous and introduce the supernatural slowly. Dan Curtis is a god, not just for DS but for the commitment that he placed on the transatlantic bonkbusting destruction-porn of The Winds of War/War and Remembrance.
Here's a good beginner's guide.

And Yes, I did see the Tim Burton film. It was enjoyable but I resented its snotty-nosed tone, looking down on the series. Yes, the original series was a soap opera that could at times be torture, but there was an invention to it,  a nuttiness that few US TV shows have. Dan Curtis was a maverick visionary, in other words a mad genius of television. The Burton film was also quite boastful, especially in the "Nights in White Satin" train shot. And tonally, I felt Depp-Barnabas was at odds with the rest of the cast, which probably was intentional to show his outsider position, but it just didn't work. I feel that a more Frid-ish performance would have worked better to offset it.

I was also watching Falcon Crest, which like DS features David Selby. Unlike DS, FC is a primetime serial drama not a daytime soap, and unlike DS, was shown in Britain and Ireland. Some of my earliest memories involve FC, watching the titles in delight, and the music, but not much else. Created by Earl Hamner as a modern equivalent to his The Waltons, production company Lorimar changed it to something like their Dallas but with wine not oil and then became a parade of faded Hollywood stars coming and going and occassionally marrying leading lady/then Presidential ex Jane Wyman, the proto-Nancy Reagan whose casting suggested some kind of Reaganite undercurrent that I'm not fit to elaborate upon. I gave up after a while, as though some of the stories were ridiculous, e.g. Paul "Belloq" Freeman as a wine-making member of a Nazi dynasty obsessed with finding gold, and the whole "dressing up as a nun to kill your mum" storyline, it didn't go batty enough.

Sphinx (1981)

Lesley Anne Down goes off to Egypt playing a character clearly written as American (refs to Boston, Thanksgiving) but plays it with her own accent and refs to tea are inserted to make it clear she is British. While in Cairo, she meets Frank Langella as a Typhoo-drinking Egyptian playboy UN antique dealer (a role offered to the couldn't be less Egyptian Rutger Hauer!), Sir John Gielgud doing his Egyptian shopkeeper routine, Eileen Way as a mad Eileen Way-y Egyptian woman, John Rhys-Davies in proto-Sallah mode as a Greek, both Nadim Sawalha and Saeed Jaffrey and about half the cast of Raiders of the Last Ark after exploring the curse of King Tut. Filmed in Egypt. Enjoyable potboiler. Almost horror but not quite, (Gielgud gets semi-beheaded by a beturbanned Martin Benson - and Down is the witness - thus kicking off the spiralling plot) it revolves around a cursed statue relating to Howard Carter's expedition (with James Cossins and future Mrs. Steve Martin Victoria "William and Kate: The Movie/Inseminoid" Tennant as the Carnarvons in a flashback).
Down plays it as if she constantly feels sorry for herself. Langella's Egyptian sounds more Sean Connery (maybe he's a cousin of his character in Highlander) esp. in the line "Am I the rudest sonabitch you've ever met?" which he says to Sawalha's private eye wearing the same suit he did in The Spy Who Loved Me, before a quick cut to Down being picked up by Sawalha's arch-rival in the "dodgy middle-Eastern/Asian sort in British TV", Saeed Jaffrey, as an extremely Indian Egyptian guide who can't tell the difference between Ramses and Ramses I. On the tour, we meet William Hootkins giving it his all as a US tourist guide (I long thought this was made in Britain - look at the cast! But surprisingly the studio stuff shot in Hungary). Down is arrested and given some sub-Midnight Express brutality by the Egyptian cops, before Langella rescues her, as she is pursued by various dodgy sorts including Vik Tablian (the sinister Monkeyman in Raiders), Kevork "Mind Your Language!" Malikyan as a bellboy (he was in Midnight Express and Indiana Jones And His Dad, too) and Maurice Ronet as sinister Frenchman Yvon. Tutte Lemkow (no, Gatiss, he's not a woman!*) plays Gielgud's son who turns Down down. Down then has a romantic tourist-footage montage with Langella and then meets Eileen Way, as the mad bitey old bag widow of one of Howard Carter's Egyptian builders who provides the exposition of the curse.  Martin Benson disguises himself as Tutte Lemkow (almost as good as the twist in the not very good Brass Target where we learn that for half the film, Max von Sydow is posing as Bernard Horsfall)  and kidnaps Down who gets lost in the tomb, almost attacked by bats and then finds the hoarded treasure of Seti, from a tomb located beneath King Tut. She then is found out, sprains her ankle Doctor Who-companion style in a chase with Rhys-Davies, and we meet Yvon who slaps Rhys-Davies as they try to find who wants the statue. There's a chase through the streets and then we discover Frank Langella is Martin Benson's nephew and that Benson believes his nephew will ruin the family's name. They visit the tomb and get trapped within. Langella is flattened. Down escapes and feels sorry for herself.
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner of Planet of the Apes fame. Some of his films can be great (Planet of the Apes, The Boys from Brazil) and sometimes they can be bloated (Patton, The War Lord). Sphinx lies somewhere between. As a friend noted on twitter, it's sort of like a US miniseries from the period. Based on a Robin Cook novel, it has that airport novel feel, and is not very cinematic despite the location shooting. The ending needed more surprise, and the lead character a lot more spunk so she wouldn't spend all day feeling sorry for herself in a jumpsuit with eternally flawless makeup. Nice score by Michael J. Lewis.

It is better than The Awakening, Orion's other Egyptian-shot curse-codswallop from the same period.

*Mark Gatiss on the League of Gents' commentary of Theatre of Blood thinks that Lemkow was a lady.

The Little Drummer Girl (1984)

The Little Drummer Girl (1984) - Directed by George Roy Hill. Diane Keaton plays Charlotte Cornwell off Rock Follies, sort of, as the character in the original book (by John LeCarre aka Cornwell's brother David). Watch out for a young Bill Nighy playing a jobbing actor alongside Fred Elliot's bigamist wife from Coronation Street. Diane plays a British-based American actress (presumably, she's done a Tales of the Unexpected) who goes to Greece for a job, gets caught up with Greek-Israeli Joseph (played by Yorgo Voyagis, best known for his role in Jesus of Nazareth where he was... Joseph) via a staged wine commercial. Klaus Kinski plays an Istaeli spymaster/nutter (it's Kinski, he's always nuts because he was more than nuts in real life) who employs among his men one of the kids from Lemon Popsicle. It gets rather slow and becomes more of a romance. David Suchet appears in his Middle Eastern mode. We get to see 1980s Fulham, including a "P*ki shop" run by Albert Moses from Mind Your Language in a flat cap and Leisure Video (which presumably like every good 80s video shop has An American Werewolf in London, Annie Hall, Lemon Popsicle and plenty of Kinski's oeuvre in stock). Le Carre himself turns up as a copper, and tonally, it's asll over the place - it ever so often feels like it will go into action-thriller mode and then dives into slushy romance. Yes, I know it's LeCarre not Jack Higgins, but LeCarre doesn't really work when it's not about middle-aged blokes challenging each other and talking in riddles.

Review - Black Sunday (1977)

Black Sunday (1977) - Kind of flat thriller - Bruce Dern is mad 'Nam vet/Goodyear blimp vet who joins Black September to become a suicide bomber and blow up his beloved airship on SuperBowl day. Marthe Keller is unconvincing as Palestinian, and Robert Shaw and Fritz Weaver as Mossad/FBI agents are sent to stop him. The climax is well-staged (they airlift the blimp away in front of panicked crowds) though Shaw's character's sacrifice-suicide is replaced by him hanging onto the helicopter, waving to the crowds as he flies away to safety. Walter Gotell appears in one of his myriad ethnicities as an Israeli. At least by having a non-American lead, it gets away with explaining what the Super Bowl is those not into American football. But its attempts to make the terrorists into sort of protagonists fail. Dern's too crazy and Keller is too cold. The barn explosion theme is good, esp. with the hard-helmet shaking on the unfortunate victim's head. But it's a film that thinks we want to spend time with a crazy man (then again, director John Frankenheimer was a bit of a crazy man, too) and a suicide bomber and not Shaw's cool, calculated Kosher calculator.

Review - The Thing with Two Heads

The Thing with Two Heads - Roosevelt Grier again, with Ray Milland's racist head grafted beside him (well sometimes, mostly its a Louis Tussaud's head of Milland). Kind of turgid - occassioanlly springs to life, eg with a motorbike race. The end theme is "Oh Happy Day", and Rick Baker appears as a two-headed gorilla.

Review - Skyjacked.

Skyjacked (1972) - James Brolin holds a plane full of Walter Pidgeon (as a n old coot who goes "boating with the POTUS), NFL legend/needlepointist/actor/Rev. Rosey Grier, Yvette Mimieux and Susan Dey hostage and only captain Chuck Heston can stop him. Rather slipshod, TV movie-alike semi-disaster plodder, a sort of bastard cousin of the Airport series - but John Guillermin adds some touches eg Bostwick constantly having fantasies of being a hero to the Soviets, hallucinating medal ceremonies.  The end - set in a convincingly freezing-looking Soviet wasteland (supposedly Moscow Airport, actually Mojave, convincingly doubled via tons of realistically sludgy fake snow).