“I’m very pleasantly surprised by this ongoing interest in my work, not just for me but because it’s bringing attention to all the films that were being made during that period. I think some of the younger fans are not only amazed that there was a British industry in those days, but that these sort of films, with such graphic content, were being made here. Those who’ve managed to see an un-cut foreign print of Satan’s Slave, for instance, are quite shocked that a movie like that could have been made in this country and that it could have been seen commercially in cinemas… they all were, that’s something I’m very proud of, that they were all shown theatrically”. Norman J. Warren, in an interview from the Freudstein archives…
Nice guys, proverbially, finish last. The career of Norman J Warren (by general assent, just about the nicest guy you’re likely to meet) never quite took him into the Premier League of genre directors. Then again, neither did that of his contemporary and peer Pete Walker… and Walker was definitely not the nicest guy I’ve ever encountered during my three decades-plus as a hack journo. The release of this limited edition (6,000 units) Indicator BD box comes as an opportunity to praise Norman, not to bury him… to fondly salute a body of work in which enthusiastic cinephilia, rugged resourcefulness and sheer bloody minded determination trumped slender resources in a manner that’s both redolent of its era and eminently watchable today.
Like Walker (albeit with markedly less enthusiasm), Warren lost his directorial cherry making soft core sex films before graduating to the chillers with which he really felt comfortable. This long overdue HD upgrade of Norman’s Horror / Sci-fi output (give or take 1979’s Outer Touch / Spaced Out ) disregards his skin-flick phase though there are smutty traces of it in e.g. Terror (1983), one of whose two films-within-a-film, “Bath Time With Brenda”, plays like a more or less affectionate memoir of his, Walker’s and indeed their shared screen writer David McGillivray’s experiences in the skin trade… you’ll notice that at no point in her ablutions does sexy Brenda (the larger than life Tricia Walsh) actually remove her bra.
Main features wise, Bloody Terror emulates Anchor Bay’s DVD set from 15 years ago… alongside Terror you get Satan’s Slave (1976), Prey (1977) and Inseminoid (1981), all looking significantly better for their HD upgrades. Indicator have also thrown in a badly conserved and frankly ropey-looking print of 1987’s Bloody New Year (the original elements of which were accidentally destroyed!) for NJW Horror completists. If you’re already familiar with this label’s Night Of The Demon and William Castle box sets, you won’t be surprised to learn that they’ve also packed the thing with a bewildering amount of extras… on which, more later.
Satan’s Slave is your basic “reincarnation of the ancestral witch via human sacrifice” effort, the best example of which remains (and probably always will) Mario Bava’s Mask Of Satan / Black Sunday (1960). The presence of Michael Gough as its presiding cultist Alexander Yorke probably makes Vernon Sewell’s Curse Of The Crimson Altar (1968, above) a more pertinent comparator, though here Gough’s got nothing like the cast of Horror A-listers (Karloff, Lee, Steele) he had to play off in Sewell’s picture… would’ve been a different story altogether had female lead Candace Glendenning (who plays his niece Catherine) not (reportedly) turned down the Linda Blair role in The Exorcist (d’oh!) As it is, she’s now best known for this one, Pete Walker’s The Flesh And Blood Show and Jim O’Connolly’s ‘s Tower Of Evil (both 1972)… not a bad little legacy from our obviously warped Freudsteinian perspective. Catherine doesn’t let a little thing like her Mum and Dad being immolated in a car crash, en route, spoil her enjoyment of the hospitality at Uncle Alexander’s place, where she’s romanced by creepy cousin Stephen (Martin Potter), whom we earlier saw sexually assaulting a previous guest before slamming her head in a door. Satan’s Slave was predictably butchered by the BBFC back in the day but here restored in not one but two distinct variants (compared and contrasted in a companion featurette). The “export version” features a more protracted and delirious rendition of the sexual assault described above, while Norman’s preferred “director’s cut” soft pedals that scene but has all the BBFC cuts restored. Both versions feature sleazy Steve (deservedly) getting a nail file jammed into his lecherous eye before the distinctly guessable twist ending. Spoiler, you say? It made a right bloody mess of his face, I can tell you…
If Satan’s Slave scours the ’70s for some scrap of Gothic sensibility, Warren’s subsequent films played out in increasingly contemporary and even futuristic milieus. Sure, Terror kicks off with further witch hunting shenanigans but these turn out to be scenes from a film being screened for its cast and crew… you might even recognise the odd film journalist in there. Rest assured, several of the assembled subsequently suffer a series of grisly demises. Norman has freely admitted that he had recently seen and was under the spell of Suspiria when he conceived this one, as is evident in the film’s occasional stabs of saturated primary colours but more obviously in its abandonment of narrative logic as the designer deaths pile, thick and fast, upon each other. Terror’s no Suspiria but it’s great fun.
Between Satan’s Slave and Terror, Norman’s gory predelictions took a turn for the Sci-fi in Prey. Released in 1976, the same year as a certain Nic Roeg / David Bowie collaboration, this one could be neatly summarised as “the man (Barry Stokes) who fell To Earth, dabbled in cross dressing then started eating his way through the human race, starting with a lesbian couple (Sally Faulkner and Glory Annen) who are trying to get away from it all in the country”. Beset with familiar pacing problems, Prey packs enough non-sequitur splatter and scuzzy sex to win the coveted HOF seal of approval.
Norman’s knack for anticipating big budget Sci-Fi efforts continued with Inseminoid (“Horrorplanet” in The States), a film which caused the bods at 20th Century Fox serious consternation on account of its perceived similarity to Alien. Warren insists that it was arrived at independently of the Ridley Scott blockbuster and I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt a) because he is, as I keep saying, such a nice guy and b) because of the characteristically lengthy and bumpy gestation endured by Inseminoid… nowhere near as traumatic a confinement, of course, as that suffered by Sally Geeson when impregnated by some alien booger while she and fellow astronauts are excavating the remains of a dead civilisation on a planet very, very far away. Norman got maximum space location bang for his buck by shooting in Chislehurst caves and Inseminoid looks mighty fine in scope dimensions. Nice electronic score by John Scott, too…
Bloody New Year (1987) has, for reasons mentioned above, been sourced from a 35mm print that looks like it was soaked in alien jizz on that faraway planet. By this point Norman was still trying to get his Fiend Without A Face reboot off the ground while working as a hired gun (in this instance for producer Maxine Julius). At the time of writing the FWAF clips and allusions with which Bloody New Year is peppered remain the closest he has come to realising that particular dream project. The film itself concerns a bunch of yooves in horrible ’80s apparel who, fleeing a funfair rumble, find themselves on a remote island where sinister secret Ministry of Defence experiments have put a serious dent in the space / time continuum. Plenty of potential in this scenario and BNY has it moments but ultimately not even the ever enthusiastic NJW could do much with the resources made available to him here.
Never saying die, NJW continues to seeking that elusive next feature break while busying himself with small projects, many of them represented among the extras on this collection. Norman J Warren Presents Horrorshow (2008) can be neatly summarised as Tales From The Crypt meets Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell, with Norman presiding as horror host over the linking sections. He trades once again on his elder statesman status in the “Norman J. Warren & The Ghost” edition of the “Turn Your Bloody Phone Off” audience advisory series and narrates the trailer to somebody else’s still unrealised (as far as I can work out) House Of Mortal Sin update Daddy Cross.
Just about anybody who’s ever collaborated with Norman is represented here in an interview, director profile or commentary track. The ever-enchanting Stephanie Beacham is as good VFM as ever, remeniscing about her time on “Insecticide” and as for the perma-jolly Trevor Thomas… I’ll have a pint of whatever he’s on, please! Tasters of unrealised projects, extended scenes, “making of”s … and so many interviews! After absorbing the contents of this box, you might well decide that you never want to see another interview with Norman J. Warren as long as you live! (*)
You even get one of the lucrative TV commercials that Norman regularly churned out for board games in the run ups to Christmas (in this instance Whipper Snappers from 1977). Still no Rod The Mod, though… the 1965 short Fragment, present on previous releases, has been lost in the shuffle this time out…. and when, oh when are we going to see the full length Bath Time With Brenda?
Keep your eye on Norman J. Warren, one nice guy who hopefully isn’t finished just yet.
(*) So obviously our next posting, arriving imminently, will be… The Norman J. Warren Interview!!!