Wednesday 10 January 2018

January Part 1 - 28 ( INC. REFS inc. The Other plus 2 tv movies) - McGoohan, Magus, Jonathan, Fragment of Fear, CHUD, Fellini, Help, King, Queen, Knave, Legacy, Bronson, Wisdom, Boys in Band, Von Trier, AIP UK...

Kings and Desperate Men (1981) - Canadian tax shelter reunion for Prisoner stars Patrick McGoohan and Alexis Kanner, who also directs. Plot confused by the very similar Margaret Trudeau and Andrea Marcovicci cast opposite each other. Similar atmosphere to The Silent Partner. McGoohan is good, but it's basically a bland Canadian Die Hard with a confusing surrealistic ending.

Jonathan (1970) - West German folk horror take on Dracula, similarly sombre and static a la Nosferatu the Vampyre even in nude scenes, visually interesting (the crucifix-wielding crowd versus the bathing vampires climax is memorable) but directed in a staid, arty style by Germany's leading soap writer. Also stars the star of the short-lived German Fawlty Towers.

The Magus (1968) - Couldn't stand it - like the Prisoner in Corfu.

The Cay (-1974) - Made for TV life raft in the Caribbean story. A Nicholas Bond Owen-esque schoolboy is stuck with a blonde-afroed James Earl Jones, doing a racist-sounding Jim Davidson as Chalky voice. Nice photography, typical US equivalent of Children's Film Foundation.

CHUD (1984)  - Like a less odd Larry Cohen film, almost TV movie-like, like the 1988 The Blob, it is forgettable despite its monsters.  It has the typical 80s post-Corman New World blandness, but unlike Cohen's The Stuff, doesn't have the joy or wit or imagination to fight against that style.

Fragment Of Fear (1970) - Like the Internecine Project, one of those British giallos that despite a good cast and some winning dialogue (a neat cameo from Mary Wimbush on a train, Arthur Lowe namechecking Boris Karloff), it is just bobbins, more psychedelic sub-Prisoner fluff.  The end is nicely Hammer House of Horror - David Hemmings haunted in his own mind by Glynn Edwards. But then it goes all psychedelic for the sake of it, and he becomes a pensioner or something. It is not slow but oddly engrossing a la Vampyres and Symptoms, it's too fast and just loses one. It's as if you're on drugs.

Spirits of the Dead (1968) - First two stories boring period dramas, while Toby Dammit begins as a typically interesting, beautifully designed Fellini piece - like most of the more creative Fellini - like a live action cartoon, but gets lost, both overwhelmed by the style and trying too hard to find a substance.

Amarcord (1973) - Watched this and Bertolucci's 1900 (1976), and both are living paintings, but while 1900 is a vaguely realistic attempt to capture its setting, Amarcord is a nostalgic cartoon, powered on visual punch. These are not films, but moving paintings in live action. 

King, Queen, Knave (1972) - unfunny Anglo-Germanic oversexed schoolboy comedy with David Niven and John Moulder Brown unconvincingly cast as nerd. Directed by Jerzy Skolimowski. whose films, even the strange German attempt at a 30s gangster hostage drama, The Lightship have a weird, hungover quality, as if made by drunks. The Shout and Deep End almost work, but they feel like they're made by a drunk crew, so obviously they don't go well. 

Help (1965) - I find the Beatles' films insufferable, and this is no exception. It's not the brownface, in fact Leo McKern and John Bluthal are actually quite fun, it's the way the Children's Film Foundation-ish plot stops for music videos.

The Legacy (1978) - Dull Omen cash-in with Sam Elliot, Katharine Ross, Charles Gray, Roger Daltrey and a theme by Kiki Dee - halfway between British horrors of the 70s and US studio snoozers like the occasionally creepy cobblers The Mephisto Waltz (1971) and The Other (1972). It is somewhat laughable, bits like Daltrey's death scene, John Standing in old age makeup that makes him look like he's wearing a Halloween mask of Peter Cushing in Top Secret, but it is clearly a script that Jimmy Sangster had in a drawer for fifteen years. However, if it had been made then, it'd have been an atmospheric but otherwise forgettable thing like 1964's Witchcraft, and not a trashily OTT but rather dull 70s attempt to crossbreed a thriller,  a possession movie and a murder mystery, with faux-European accents to match.

Death Wish (1974) - Had only seen extensive clips before, and the sequels. Wow. Much better, than the too-brutal Death Wish 2, the hilarious 3, and the routine 4 and 5. Winner's view of New York as full of traffic jams and rape. Do son in laws constantly refer to their father in laws as Dad? Winner gives it lots of interesting diversions, i.e. the Wild West show bit.  More original than the identikit likes of St. Ives and Mr. Majestyk (1973) and even Winner's swift and stylish the Stone Killer (1973 -  which has a great Roy Budd soundtrack and a weird interlude in a hippie carnival).

The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968) - Confused sub-Produces Broadway nonsense, notable for being the supposed American break for Norman Wisdom. It's weird to see Sir Norman in a period 30s Noo Yawk setting, and not going about, screaming, "O, Mr. Grimsdale!" Britt Ekland plays Amish, semi-convincingly, semi because while she gets the alienation right, she's too Swedish.

The Boys In The Band (1970) - Two unlikeable queens being catty filtered through the hard-to-relate-to cinematic vision of William Friedkin (one of those directors like De Palma, Ashby, Altman, Peckinpah, etc that I can't warm to - New Hollywood  mostly leaves me cold.I prefer the dying embers of the old straggling along, trying to survive, thanks to producers like Irwin Allen, Lew Grade and Jennings Lang.). Then again, I'm a genre/ideas man.

See China And Die (-1981) - Larry Cohen's pilot for a detective show - fronted by Esther Rolle as "Momma", an intelligent, sixty-odd crime novel fan, maid/cook and amateur detective who gets involved in a conspiracy involving tax shelters, culture clashes with the upper class New York art world, stolen Chinese statues and a pigtailed, mutton dressed as lamb Jean Marsh. Despite showing promise, especially being a genre show with a black female lead (something still very rare - drama-wise, there wouldn't be a black female lead fronting a weekly drama series on American primetime television between Get Christie Love in 1974 and Scandal in 2012), it was not picked up. And that's a shame, especially as Cohen's quirky New York-centric vision comes through.

Element of Crime (1984)- Lars Von Trier's first film, with an odd, futuristic setting, initially appears to be lighting not unlike Richard Stanley's Hardware but it is actually a sort of coffee-spill copper sepia tint. Saved by the bizarre casting of Michael Elphick in the lead, alongside Esmond Knight and Me Me Lai "being fucked back to the stone age".  A noirish mess.

Bloodsuckers (1970) - Rather ITC-ish vampire caper, set in Greece, despite an interesting cast - Peter Cushing, Patrick Macnee, Patrick Mower, Edward Woodward, Johnny Sekka as a rare black lead in a British horror, and genuine Greek and Cypriot locations, it doesn't go anywhere, and becomes a daft travelogue. Woodward is good as a vampire expert, though.

Cry of the Banshee (1970) - Not Irish, not about a Banshee unless you count the mad old cow played by Elizabeth Bergner (who is called Oona, so possibly), with Blackadder-esque music to increase the Elizabethan mood in a setting less convincing than Carry On Henry, a young Michael Elphick fondling maidens,  Patrick Mower as the actual "banshee", a  male were-minstrel and much occasionally laughable, mostly boring cobblers, like a lot of the B-list period horrors of the era. Like the Shoes of the Fisherman and Lolly-Madonna XXX (not as exciting as the title or poster promise), a film that can be seen by watching its trailer.

Horrors of the Black Museum (1959) - Fun British horror. Michael Gough has lots to do, electrifying police inspectors with huge 50s sci-fi computers, dumping bodies into acid baths, all in the name of inspiration for his Edgar Lustgarten-esque crime writings. And apart from Geoffrey Keen, the other cast isn't particularly great, especially young Shirley Anne Field who clearly got acting lessons after this. But it has some good setpieces, and an interesting fairground sacrifice climax.

The Pit (1981) - TV's Tom Sawyer, Sammy Snyders plays a slightly backward kid  who feeds stuff including people and a cow to pit-dwelling vermin-monsters whom he calls Trologs and are instructed by his teddy bear. Slow, and Snyders' performance is strange, written for someone slightly younger. Some fun moments are included, including tossing down a wheelchair-bound old lady  as "we all have to go somewhere". He then rides off in the wheelchair.  Ends with the Pit bulldozed, and Snyders being packed off to his cousins, who also keep Trologs in their own pit and feed Snyders. It's too slow, but it has that nice Canadian atmosphere and a nicely dramatic orchestral score.  And it looks good, the production is stable, the monsters look cool. It is certainly as good as the likes of Bloody Birthday and better than the cutprice A for effort, but even more dull and amateurish likes of The Orphan (1979) and The Child (1977) and even Bert I. Gordon's Necromancy (a lot of those Nightmare USA regional exploitation efforts on grainy film I find sometimes interesting but often dull, A for effort, but a lot of them feel nightmarish for all the wrong reasons).

Necromancy (1972) - Orson Welles does Cockney. HARVEY JASON WEARS MAKEUP. Not good. Slow, boring Rosemary's Baby imitation. Pamela Franklin's weird transatlantic accent probably her own.

Also watched the shortlived almost-but-not-quite-steampunk series QED from 1982 with Sam Waterston as an American scientific genius in Edwardian England, directed by the likes of Don Sharp and Roy Ward Baker, and lots of top British crew, but. it's weird. It's tonally a mishmash, going for more Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines/Wrong Box/Assassination Bureau wearisome comedic swashbucklery than Talons-ish gothic, and being written by John Hawkesworth, is more lightly comedic period drama than adventure, with George Innes and Caroline Langrishe (replacing Sarah Berger as a different but similarly star-billed character in the pilot). And despite having Julian Glover as lead villain, and the likes of George A. Cooper as a Northern inventor and George Baker as a Northern newspaperman, and the likes of John Abineri, Ron Pember, Tony Caunter, Jean Anderson and Cyril Luckham (both given their own separate billings in the end credits) doing the best as he can as a butler with exposition, Pauline Quirke, a German-speaking Frederick Jaeger as the Kaiser, all wasted. It needed to be more gothic, less whimsical. Waterston also seems somewhat miscast. He doesn't seem like a 19th century gent, and the script doesn't call for him to be an anachronism, so he just tries his best and gets lost, and the diddly-daddy "Victorian" music doesn't work. The last epsiode is a diet Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng Chiang, but lacks atmosphere, yet actually casts all Chinese with Sarah "Adventure Game" Lam and for once, Burt Kwouk given proper opening titles "special guest star" status (he being a British actor who Americans would actually recognise, Ian Ogilvy, Glover, Elizabeth Shepherd and Paul Freeman the only others to do so for same reasons) while murders go on, Timothy Bateson plays a predatory comic relief Jewish tailor, and Peter Cellier is Kwouk's MI5 narcotics boss. Though Edwardian set, and made in UK, maybe the NTSC film helps make it look American, one of those duff US attempts at Victoriana. Everything's too jolly for their own good.

Also been trying to watch Brian Clemens' Thriller (-1973-1976), but it's too mundane, hopelessy padded, with thriller ideas that are very stupid, rather than daft. I have a love-hate relationship with Clemens. I think as a kid, I worshipped  people like Clemens, Ray Bradbury, mainly because a. you're a kid, and the difference between what's stupid and what's daft hasn't come clear, but also that whole thing, when I'm older, I'll be like these guys, I'll have a big writing room full of tat like Bradbury.  I admired their work ethic, and I read their synopses of their work, but didn't see much of their actual work, and when I did, I was bored by it. I'm not into the Avengers or much of the ITC shows, and re:Thriller, I think they should have gone more OTT horror/fantasy, more like Dan Curtis’ stuff. The Poe-themed costume party comes too late in the episode Kiss Me and Die comes too late, George Chakiris dressed as Davy Crockett,too much romance between Agutter and Chakiris, Anton Diffring a solid villain, Russell Hunter fun as a West Country “old fashioned rat”-fancier. But Death to Sister Mary – its opening between Jennie Linden in a fake convent set, revealed to be a sub-Crossroads soap, doesn’t really work, as Thriller has the same production values. As I said, things come too late. Troughton isn't in enough of the episode Nurse Will Make It Better, which despite Diana Dors as the Devil and an appealing lead in Andrea Marcovicci, feels like a soap with not enough barmy fantasy nonsense. It is The Omen if it were an episode of Emmerdale Farm.
As for Clemens' other work, I like Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter (1974), but it's a pilot, and is a bit more pedestrian than people give it credit for, and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) feels like a made for  US TV musical with most of the songs cut out (bar that very 70s-sounding street singer's ballad), there's too much supposedly charming but actually rather grating comedy,  and not enough Philip Madoc. And you could have easily cut out Burke and Hare, and just either made Madoc Hare, or cut Burke and Hare out entirely, and give it all to Madoc.

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