Posts Tagged With: Amicus

With Friends Like These… AMICUS – THE FRIENDLY FACE OF FEAR Reviewed

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“You do The Hokey-Cokey and you turn around…”

Amicus – The Friendly Face Of Fear by Alan Bryce. Ghoulish Publishing. P/B. ISBN 978-1-5272-0271-9

While knocking out issues of The Dark Side under the Stray Cat banner, Allan Bryce also managed to publish a series of nifty film books… among the niftiest of them, I would count (never having found modesty all that forbidding) the third edition of my “video nasties” tome Seduction Of The Gullible and the follow-up Cannibal! (which I still prefer to refer to under its original title “Slaves Of The Cannibal God – 20 Years Of Italian Man Munching Movies.”) After the death of Allan’s business partner Ken Mills, Dark Side disappeared from our shelves for a couple of years before its triumphant re-emergence courtesy of Ghoulish Publishing, which now brings us Allan’s own Amicus – The Friendly Face Of Fear, touted as the “definitive history” of this much-loved low-budget Hammer competitor, named for the friendship between its co-creators Milton Subotsky (the creative schmendrick with the DIY haircut) and Max Rosenberg (the hard-headed money man.)

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Definitive? To assess this claim I would need to have read the various previously published accounts of Amicus  (including one by Stray Cat, 15 years ago) which, I must confess, I haven’t. Safe to say, though, A-TFFOF is a terrific read in its own right, simultaneously eminently knowledgable, fannishly enthusiastic and rigorously analytical as it guides us from the soup of Subotsberg’s pre-Amicus horror effort City Of The Dead (1960) through to the nuts of the daft plastic dinosaur epics from which you might remember Doug Mclure, with all those portmanteau treasures and such endearing oddities as And Now The Screaming Starts (1973) and The Beast Must Die (1974) nicely packed in between. While doing so it steers a middle course between previous accounts of the breakdown in amicable relations between Rosenberg and Subotsky (their ups and downs mirroring those of the company’s fortunes), which have tended to favour one or the other. While reiterating that Milt was the creative heart of Amicus, Bryce acknowledges that turning in a coherent, feature-length screenplay wasn’t exactly his forte (much to the chagrin of literary sources such as Robert Bloch and the consternation of several Amicus directors.)

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The dynamic duo first collaborated on an early draft of The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957), maintaining thereafter that they had been bilked out of their due credits (and payments) on Hammer’s horror breakthrough. Thereafter they strove manfully to compete with Carreras and co, poaching their talent from both sides of the camera while never consistently competing with Hammer at the box office. Amicus certainly couldn’t compete in budgetary terms, making a virtue of necessity by hiring multiple name actors for short stints in their beloved multi-story horror films.

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If you’re reading this you’ve probably already got some knowledge of and / or affection for these films… if not, I can do no better than point you in the direction of The Friendly Face Of Fear, 168 perfect bound glossy pages heavily illustrated in both colour and b/w and just bursting with Amicus minutiae… who knew, for instance, that the then Marquis de Sade petitioned successfully to have the family name removed from French marketing for Freddie Francis’s The Skull (1965) on the grounds that it would be brought into disrepute (“Locking the stable door after the cheval has bolted”, as Bryce wryly notes)…  that Rosenberg deep sixed Subotsky’s plans for e.g. a tripped-out revamp of It’s Trad, Dad! (starring The Byrds, The Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful dead!) and film adaptations of Marvel’s superhero characters (no commercial potential there at all, eh?) … that The House That Dripped Blood supported Last House On The Left in the U.S… that Geoffrey Bayldon was an 11th Hour replacement for Spike Milligan in Asylum… that Tales From The Crypt was being shot at Shepperton at the same time as Tower Of Evil, a film with which it shared sets… that the negative response to Vault Of Horror from E.C. Comics’ Bill Gaines scuppered Amicus plans for More Tales From The Crypt, The Haunt of Fear and Tales Of The Incredible (the latter to have been shot in 3D)… that, according to special FX man (and no relation to the author) Allan Bryce, the squirming green innards of a Dalek were cut from Dr. Who And The Daleks (1965) on the grounds that they would upset tiny tots… and who remembered that Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966) was freighted with product placement shots promoting the breakfast cereal Sugar Puffs? (*) If your answer to these questions or most of them is “Me!”… just shut up Darrell and give somebody else a chance, OK?

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A splendid read then, topped and tailed by a characteristically eye-catching Rick Melton cover and irreverent biogs of Messrs Bryce, Melton and Kevin Coward (who acquits himself admirably in the design of this volume) and, for some reason, their respective spouses. Helps to keep things amicable, I suppose.

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(*) Just consider, if that movie had been made in Italy, I Daleki would have been exterminating their way through rivers of J&B!

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Anyone Who Had A Heart… TALES FROM THE CRYPT reviewed

“Ooh, Mister Grimsdyke!”

Blu-ray. Region B. Final Cut. 15.

Although Amicus got their series of portmanteau horror epics off to a barnstorming start with Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors (Freddie Francis, 1965), its immediate successors – Torture Garden (1967) and The House That Dripped Blood (1971) – were patchy affairs. Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg subsequently cemented their place in the Horror Hall Of Fame though with the holy trinity of Asylum, Tales From The Crypt (both 1972) and Vault Of Horror (1973.) TFTC is a perennial personal favourite here at The House Of Freudstein, so just imagine the scene of jubilation on Christmas morning when it transpired that, among the copious goodies Santa had deposited from his bulging sack, was the new Final Cut BD of this seminal effort (sorry, I just interviewed Julian Clary’s gag writer and I think something has, er, rubbed off.)

For this one the Amicus boys recalled Francis as director but, having exhausted the prolific pen of Robert Bloch in their previous efforts, turned to the blood drenched pages of EC’s notorious, suppressed comics for inspiration, adapted its five vignettes from stories by Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein and Johnny Craig that had featured in EC’s Tales From The Crypt and its sister publication The Vault Of Horror. The cod moralising of these comics was perfectly suited to the evolving ethos of Amicus…whereas Dr Terror had dished out terror, horror and ultimately death in indiscriminate style (Christopher Lee’s vindictive art critic deserved all he got, arguably Roy Castle’s voodoo profaning trumpeter too, but it’s difficult to see what Neil McCallum, Alan “Fluff” Freeman and Donald Sutherland had done to merit their respective fates, apart from simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time), there had been an accelerating trend in subsequent cycle entries towards poetic justice, allowing viewers to revel in the grisly demise of a screen character, with the comfort of clear consciences because the bastard had it coming!

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Despite the warnings of tour guide (Amicus regular Geoffrey Bayldon) against “losing their way”, the usual motley crew of misfits wander off while checking out some underground catacombs, seemingly bored by his tales of religious intolerance and persecution. The stories they share, when confronted by a sinister robed figure (the casting of Sir Ralph Richardson as The Crypt Keeper stands as a coup that would only be topped when Bob Guccione signed up his mate John Gielgud for Tinto Brass’s big budget wankfest biopic of Caligula, 1979) reveal them as rather more petty exemplars of man’s eternal inhumanity to man, though admittedly each gets paid out in boffo style. Joan Collins celebrates Christmas Eve by bashing out her boring husband’s brains with a poker (maybe he didn’t get her the horror Blu-ray she asked for), warning her daughter not to come downstairs because Santa’s on his way… and he obligingly arrives in the shape of an escaped homicidal maniac, whom the kid (Chloe Franks, Christopher Lee’s witchy daughter in The House That Dripped Blood) gleefully lets in at the patio door; Ian Hendry bails on his wife and kid to do a runner with sexy mistress Angie Grant, only to end up in one of those endlessly looping “phew, it was all a dream / oh shit, no it wasn’t” nightmares of RTAs and walking death; a pair of property value-obsessed proto-yuppies drive kindly old bin man Arthur Grimsdyke (Peter Cushing) to suicide on Valentine’s day, which improves the tone of the neighbourhood but leads to a vengeful visit from his shambling corpse on February 14th the following year; Barbara Murray wishes for a financial upturn on a magic jade stature (“It’s just like that old story, The Monkey’s Paw” observes another character, helpfully) and inadvertently condemns her husband, ruthless industrialist Richard Greene, to an eternity of agony (cineastes might care to play “Spot the Cocteau quote” during this story); finally, in the longest episode, retired military man Nigel Patrick becomes the governor of an institution for blind men and systematically raids its budget so that he can lead the high life while they freeze and starve. Patrick Magee, riveting as ever, leads an improbable but satisfying insurrection involving a razor-lined rat run (difficult to imagine the old blind boys constructing this without inflicting some nasty injuries on themselves and each other), the Major’s Alsation, starved into a feral state and… lights out! The moral of this story? Never say: “Can’t you see I’m having my lunch?” to a blind dude… Predictably, The Crypt Keeper reveals that all of them have actually perpetrated the respective desperate deeds described above, before consigning them to a fiery abyss and admonishing us not to end up like them. Sure thing, Sir John.

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At this point in the Amicus portmanteau cycle, things were getting distinctly gory, in fact the more visceral details of Greene’s never ending death throes (twitching intestines, severed hand wandering around his coffin…) were cut from versions broadcast on TV until very recently. It’s notable that the accelerating emphasis in these films on dishing out just desserts (the Cushing segment is even entitled “Poetic Justice”, fer Chrissakes) arrives, in this EC adaptation, at an increasing identification of the bad guys with rapacious capitalism, making you wonder if the banning of the original comics in the States during the mid-50s had more to do with this critique of The American Way than with any alleged tendency to inspire juvenile delinquency or whatever. Developing this theme further, the following year’s Vault Of Horror would trap its story tellers in the basement of a shi shi city office block, after its titles have played out over footage of the palace of Westminster. There’s no crypt keeper (or vault… bloke) in that one, but it’s even easier in 2016 than it was in the early ’70s to work out who the real bad guys are.

Final Cut have effected a top transfer of this mini classic, allowing the viewer (this one, certainly) to relish the curves of Barbara Murray’s magnificent bosom in all their HD glory… just don’t rely on her to come up with any good wishes next time you’re rubbing your monkey paw, OK? And while we’re pondering the Jason family’s little predicament, why exactly were Richard Greene’s veins full of enbalming fluid the instant before he died of a heart attack? Maybe M. Night Shyamalan’s threatened TFTC TV reboot will clear that one up? Or maybe not…

Bonus materials comprise a stills gallery and Tales From The Amicus Crypt, a watchable 36 minute appreciation from talking heads such as Jonathan Rigby, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Chibnall and Kevin Lyons. I haven’t seen Kevin for years… nor, indeed my copy of Martin Barker’s Video Nasties book.

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BD SleeveScream Carl, Scream! copy

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