Posts Tagged With: Indicator

Un-American Activities… Joe Losey’s TIME WITHOUT PITY And SECRET CEREMONY Reviewed

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Secret Ceremony. BD. Indicator. Region B. 15.

Indicator have been fair rattling out Joseph Losey titles recently, including The Damned aka These Are The Damned (1962) as part of their fourth Hammer BD box. Losey’s filmography is a notoriously uneven one, inevitably compromised by his Hollywood exile (for standing up to McCarthyite witch hunters) and subsequent search for a more convivial environment in which to make movies, scarcely less by his continuing adherence to Brechtian notions of alienation after he did settle in the UK.

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Like any Lefty worth his salt, Losey was fascinated by the power relations within social groups. In These Are / The Damned his scrutiny ranged from Clockwork Orange before their time biker gangs to deep state bigwigs dictating the fates of nations. Time Without Pity (1957) concerns itself with the plight of the individual in conflict with The State / Society (a pretty extreme / capital case thereof), which is inextricably connected to the state of that individual’s relationship with his father. Secret Ceremony (1968) zones straight in on the treacherous terrain of power and corruption within one family.

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In TWP David Graham (Michael Redgrave) is a failed writer and an even worse excuse for a father. The only field in which he excels is alcoholism. He ends up attempting to dry out in Canada, in a joint so strict that he’s not allowed any mail whatsoever, even mail informing him that his son Alec (Alec McCowen) has been convicted of murdering his girlfriend Jennie (Christina Lubicz) and condemned to hang. Discharged from Rehab (but still drinking like a fish), Graham arrives back in Blighty on the eve of the execution and embarks on a frantic mission to stay the hangman’s hand, with the aid of his solicitor Jeremy Clayton (Peter Cushing). Alec seems resigned to his fate and is contemptuous of his deadbeat Dad’s sudden concern for his welfare but convinced of junior’s innocence, Graham begins to focus his suspicions on brash industrialist Robert Stanford (Leo McKern), at whose property the murder took place

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Watching TWP, I was reminded of Jorge Grau’s lesser known 1974 effort Pena De Muerte (= “The Death Penalty” but ludicrously retitled “Violent Bloodbath” in Anglo territories), a film which debates the rationale of capital punishment in any country whose judicial system is seriously skewed along class lines. In Losey’s picture Leo McKern gives a driving (in every sense of the term) portrayal of precisely the kind of swashbuckling, feckless entrepreneurial psychopath we are encouraged to worship these days, yay, even unto bailing them out for their fuck ups and financial car crashes.

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I’ve suggested elsewhere on this blog that some of the awkward characterisations and conspicuous miscasting in other Losey films might be intentionally connected with his fixation on Brechtian alienation but there’s no need for any such get out clauses here, with a great cast doing their stuff impeccably. Jeremy Clayton was Cushing’s last role before Trence Fisher’s The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) transformed his career and the face of cinematic Horror forever. Redgrave’s Graham finally redeems himself in a barnstorming final twist which has a touch of the Sydney Cartons about it. Tis a far, far better thing he does…

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This cracking British noir was the first film that Losey made in exile which was released back in The States with his real name on it. From one Joe to another… up yours!

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Secret Ceremony, on the other hand, does have more than a smidgeon of Bertolt B. polemics about it. Mia Farrow (fresh off of Rosemary’s Baby) is Cenci, a childlike and plainly disturbed young woman who lives alone in an improbably opulent mansion in Holland Park. She encounters Leonora (Liz Taylor) on the top deck of a bus and becomes fixated on her on account of her resemblance to her late mother. As chance (and screenwriter George Tabori, adapting Marco Denevi’s short story) would have it, Taylor is also mourning a dead daughter whom Cenci resembles. Accepting her offer to move in (which sure beats living as a homeless prostitute), Leonora finds herself in a scathing battle of wits with the deranged girl.

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Suggesting that Losey had been boning up on his R.D. Laing (both men were former philosophy students), Secret Ceremony locates the source of Cenci’s malaise squarely in the family matrix. Leonora soon encounters and has to contend with her covetous Aunts (Peggy Ashcroft and Pamela Brown) then along rolls Albert (Robert Mitchum), the sleazy step father who’s been molesting Cenci since childhood (not too difficult a bombshell to have anticipated, given the naming of Farrow’s character). Rough justice, of a sort, is finally served, though the final scene is open to a variety of interpretations.

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Taylor takes a lot of stick for many of her performances and this one is often singled out for particular derision, unjustly so in my opinion. Mitchum slides into the role of the cynical nonce with his accustomed louche alacrity and Farrow could have been born to play Cenci (though in fact she only got the part when Julie Christie turned it down). It says a lot for the quality of the cast that actresses of Ashcroft and Brown’s calibre are restricted to such minor roles. Much more fuss is made of Mike Nichols’ Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966) but this neglected oddity is every bit as compelling.

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If only all films of this vintage looked this good on Blu-ray. Indicator have managed a beautiful rendering of Gerry Fisher’s cinematography. Thankfully this is the unadulterated Secret Ceremony, minus the extra (non-Losey) scenes that Universal tacked on in an act of vandalism that they hoped would make the film more agreeable to American TV networks. You want to know about the special features on these discs? Of course you do and here, by the miracle of cut and paste, they are…

Time Without Pity, HD remaster

  • Original mono audio
  • The John Player Lecture with Joseph Losey (1973, 80 mins): the celebrated filmmaker in conversation with film critic Dilys Powell at London’s National Film Theatre
  • New and exclusive audio commentary with Neil Sinyard, co-author of British Cinema in the 1950s: A Celebration
  • The Sins of the Father (2019, 16 mins): filmmaker Gavrik Losey, son of Joseph Losey, discusses Time Without Pity
  • Horlicks: Steven Turner (1960, 1 min): vintage commercial for the malted milk drink, directed by Joseph Losey
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Robert Murphy, Joseph Losey on Time Without Pity, Jeff Billington on the MacMahonists and Time Without Pity, an overview of critical responses, and film credits
  • World premiere on Blu-ray
  • Limited edition of 3,000 copies

Secret Ceremony, HD remaster

  • Original mono audio
  • Audio commentary with authors and critics Dean Brandum and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (2019)
  • Archival Interview with Joseph Losey(1969, 15 mins): extract from the French television programme Cinéma critique, featuring the celebrated director promoting the release of Secret Ceremony and an appreciation by critic Michel Mourlet
  • The Beholder’s Share (2019, 25 mins): interview with Gavrik Losey, son of Joseph Losey
  • TV version: additional scenes (1971, 18 mins): unique epilogue and prologue produced for US television screenings, with Robert Douglas and Michael Strong
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Larry Karaszewski trailer commentary (2015, 3 mins): short critical appreciation
  • Image gallery: promotional and publicity material
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Neil Sinyard, an archival location report, Joseph Losey onSecret Ceremony, a look at the source novella, an overview of contemporary reviews, and film credits
  • World premiere on Blu-ray
  • Limited edition of 3,000 copies
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It’s Hammer (Horror) Time! Indicator’s HAMMER VOLUME FOUR: FACES OF FEAR Box Reviewed

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BD. Indicator. Region Free. 15.

Indicators limited (to 6,000 numbered units) edition Hammer Volume Four: Faces Of Fear box set trawls through that legendary studio’s repertoire in similarly promiscuous style to its three predecessors, yielding four UK Blu-ray premieres. First up is possibly the most undervalued jewel in Hammer’s Gothic crown, Terence Fisher’s The Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958). Although it’s generally acknowledged that, in the previous Universal cycle, James Whale outdid even the splendours of his Frankenstein (1931) when he made The Bride Of Frankenstein in 1935, Fisher’s second Frankenstein flick tends to get undeservedly short shrift relative to the big break through picture he helmed for Hammer, The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957).

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TROF takes up exactly where the original left off in 1860, as the Baron (Peter Cushing) is led out to his assignation with the guillotine. His deformed assistant Carl having greased the executioner’s palm, the attending priest affords the Baron more solace than he could possibly have imagined by going under the blade in his place. Three years later, Dr Stein has relocated to Carlsbrück, where he’s maintaining a very successful medical practice. His lucrative work on the town’s neurotic young ladies and their matchmaking mothers underwrites his free clinic for this burg’s unwashed social marginals who in, their turn keep the Baron in body parts for his sophomore crack at creating a new creature. Carl will be repaid by having his superfine mind relocated to a more salubrious body (that of Michael Gwynne) and everybody will be happy ever after. That’s the idea, anyway…

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Ambitious young doctor Hans Kleve (Francis “future voice of Captain Scarlet” Mathews) is Klever enough to figure out the doc’s true identity and volunteers to assist him. As the alternative is to be turned in to the police, “Doctor Stein” graciously accepts this kind offer. The big operation turns out successfully but the intervention of well-off do gooder Margaret (Eunice Gayson) sparks off an unfortunate sequence of events resulting in the handsome young creature degenerating physically and turning cannibal (!) The hoity-toity local medical board aren’t best pleased with these developments, but their response pales into insignificance compared to the reaction of the unwashed paupers / unwitting organ donors, leading to a twist ending which sets up the Baron nicely for the rest of the series as a proper self made man.

 

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Did I mention the fab cameos from Michael Ripper and Lionel Jeffries?

Among the expected plethora of extras attending this 4K restoration there’s that cracking trailer with Cushing’s baron ‘fessing up to his escape from Madame Guillotine and his plans for new outrages. In the featurette Back from the Dead Jonathan Rigby, Alan Barnes and Kevin Lyons devote their collective attention to the film. The consensus emerges that Eunice Gayson’s character was a bit of a waste of screen space. Pamela Hutchinson makes the pro-Eunice case in her featurette then Kat Ellinger gets the casting vote in a visual essay directed by Dima Ballin. I don’t know if Kat’s the first critic to discern a connection between Cushing’s Frankenstein and Dennis Price’s character in Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949), but the comparison is very well drawn.

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There are two audio commentaries from duos of genre pundits, Marcus Hearn / Jonathan Rigby and Kim Newman / Stephen Jones. David Huckvale (author of Hammer Film Scores And The Musical Avant Garde) dissects Salzedo’s score and you get 12 soundless minutes of on-set outtakes plus the 8 minute long Super 8 presentation and image gallery. As with all the other films on this set, there’s a trailer with optional audio commentary (in this case by Joe Dante). There’ll also be a limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet including a new Marcus Hearn essay and Kieran Foster on Hammer’s unrealised Tales of Frankenstein TV series, Jimmy Sangster on The Revenge of Frankenstein, a selection of promotional materials, an overview of contemporary reviews and comprehensive film credits.

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At the point in my life where it was beginning to dawn on me that Horror Films might actually be worth writing about rather than just casually consuming, Mario Bava, Roger Corman and Terence Fisher were generally regarded as the holy trinity of auteurs among Horror directors in the critical texts I started reading. Producer Val Lewton was afforded similar status. Subsequent waves of pro and fanzine publications have only boosted Bava’s credentials but these days Corman is more highly regarded for the talent he brought along rather than his own directorial efforts and Lewton has just about disappeared off the radar which Fisher vacated long ago.

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Wolf Mankowitz seemed to have precious little respect for Fisher even in 1960, when he was called upon to impart an air of “respectability” to the director’s The Two Faces Of Dr Jekyll. His screenplay, freighted with throwaway Freud and Nietzsche, displays similarly scant regard for Robert Louis Stevenson (and to make it unanimous, Hammer deny Stevenson a writing credit for a classic  story that had slipped into the public domain), introducing a new character, Paul Allen (Christoper Lee) who turns an infernal triangle (also involving Dawn Addams as the doc’s flighty wife) into a right raunchy rectangle.

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Paul Massie takes on the title role(s), tweedy and dull in a joke shop beard (Hammer make up maestro Roy Ashton sparing every expense) as Dr J, clean shaven, wild eyed and overacting furiously as Paul Allen gives Mr H. a guided tour of the most vanilla debauchery London has to offer. Composer Monty Norman (yes, the Bond guy) and DP Jack Asher impart the requisitely lush sound and visuals (beautifully rendered in this HD remaster) to keep a golden era Hammer romp rattling along. By the close of proceedings Dr J is confronted with the real life fall out from his abstract philosophical theories about “authentic” manhood. This one would make an interesting double bill with Walerian Borowczyk’s The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Miss Osbourne (1981), which wrestles with similar ethical concerns and takes similar liberties with the narrative of RLS’s venerable yarn.

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Bonus wise you get an audio commentary with film historians Josephine Botting and Jonathan Rigby, the latter also popping up alongside his usual cohorts in the overview featurette Identity Crisis. Academic Laura Mayne profiles Dawn Addams and we get the additional benefit of a fan’s audio interview with Paul Massie (who reassures his interlocutor that the sex films in his films were actually staged) and an archive interview with Wolf Mankowitz. In Mauve Decadence, David Huckvale supplements his discussion of Monty Norman’s score with observations on the film’s colour schemes. Plus all the expected stuff and the booklet will feature a new essay by Kat Ellinger, a selection of promotional materials, an overview of contemporary reviews and full film credits.

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Not wanting to be typecast as… well, tall, dark and gruesome, Christopher Lee declined the lead role(s) in TTFODJ in favour of one that prefigures several he subsequently took in certain of Jess Franco’s better budgeted De Sade adaptations a decade or so later… and of course in 1971 he took the “Jekyll / Hyde” (actually Marlowe / Blake) roles in Stephen Weeks’ even looser Amicus adaptation I, Monster. So go figure.

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Lee wasn’t the only one worried about flogging the goose that laid the golden egg to death, either. Michael Carreras and the other Hammer bigwigs were more worried about that than I clearly am about mixing metaphors and for Taste Of Fear (1961), Jimmy Sangster was tasked with writing an hommage to a French film that was released in 1955 and whose influence, though apparently rapidly eclipsed by Hammer’s more overtly explosive efforts, subsequently pervaded some of Hitchcock’s finest screen achievements (notably Vertigo and Psycho) and later the gialli with which it has, on numerous occasions, been associated in this blog. I’m talking, of course, about Henri George Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (below). Underlining this attempted shift in style Taste Of Fear, directed in 1961 by Seth Holt (heading up only his second feature film) was shot in moody monochrome (rather than Fisher’s favoured gaudy colour schemes) by Douglas Slocombe.

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Wheelchair bound Penny Appleby (Susan Strasberg) visits her estranged father’s cliff top mansion in the South of France, only to be told that he’s away. So why does what appears to be his corpse (below) keep turning up in the conservatory, swimming pool and elsewhere? Looks like her step mother Jane (Ann Todd) and the family doctor Pierre Gerrard Lee again) are attempting to gaslight Penny out of her inheritance. Luckily Ann’s hunky chauffeur Robert (Ronald Lewis) seems to be rooting for our girl… but there are plenty of twists to come.

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Nearly 60 years after its initial release, Taste Of Fear remains an effective shocker, from its gloomy opening to the satisfying poetic irony of its conclusion, with twists piling upon twists along the way. You’ve got to give Holt, Sangster and co credit for something fresh because the template of Les Diaboliques had not, at this point, been thrashed into the ground by so many late ’60s and subsequent gialli (most of them written by Ernesto Gastaldi). Don’t get me wrong, I love those pictures but Clouzot’s original remains superior to them and indeed Taste Of Fear, because… well, I think it’s something to do with the fact that its protagonists are struggling to survive in a drab, unforgiving environment, as opposed to the louche playboys and girls who came later. Does that make me sound “classist”? I’m not sure that’s even a real word…

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Together with two presentations of the main feature (including the US version Scream Of Fear) we’re treated to a particularly bumper slate of supplementary materials on this disc including a commentary track from Kevin Lyons, who joins Jonathan Rigby and Alan Barnes in the featurette Body Horror. Expect lots of anecdotes about director Holt having to contend with Strasberg’s formidable mother on set. Melanie Williams profiles Ann Todd and there are not one but two (one video, one audio) interviews with Jimmy Sangster. Joining Jimmy in the British Entertainment History Project archive, Douglas Slocombe talks about working for Hammer and Steven Spielberg and camera operator Desmond Davis and assistant sound editor John Crome chip in with their reminiscenses.  You get the Super 8 version of Scream of Fear and the booklet will contain an essay by Marcus Hearn, Jimmy Sangster on the film, an archival on-set report, selection of promotional materials and an overview of contemporary reviews.

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The Damned (1962… “These Are The Damned” in the US) would fit just as comfortably (or uncomfortably) on any other Hammer box. This eclectic effort could have been (and at various points was) hyped as both juvenile delinquency and sci-fi saga, the latter slant enhanced no end by its more than passing resemblance to Wolf Rilla’s Village Of The Damned (1960 and pictured below, mainly because it’s such a groovy graphic!)

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Middle-aged yank Simon Wells (Macdonald Carey) sails into Weymouth and begins his holiday by falling foul of a honey trap involving attractive young Joan (Shirley Anne Field) and run by her brother (Oliver Reed, who appears briefly in Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll and was last seen ripping off seaside tourists on this blog in Michael Winner’s The System). Beaten up by King’s “Teddy Boys” (clearly a gang of actual Rockers, drilled by King in a foreshadowing of Alex’s handling of his droogs in A Clockwork Orange), Wells continues his pursuit of Joan and by various clumsy script contrivances the dramatis personae find themselves in a secret base on an island where irradiated children are being prepared for a post-Apocalyptic future…

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A likely story, with awkward characterisations exacerbated by some conspicuous miscasting, The Damned is nevertheless well worth watching due to the profusion of challenging ideas throws out by Joseph Losey (several of whose films have been recently released by Indicator). On the lam from McCarythyite witch hunting (and originally pencilled in to direct Hammer’s X – The Unknown, 1956, until its Commie-phobic star Dean Jagger objected and Leslie Norman replaced him), Losey was always fascinated by the power dynamics between social groupings, be they biker gangs or deep state bigwigs dictating the fates of nations. He’d studied with  Bertolt Brecht so maybe we can give him the benefit of the doubt and conclude that if the characterisations and miscastings in this film have an alienating effect, they were supposed to. Maybe.

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This one will also be accompanied by an exclusive 36-page booklet comprising a new essay by Richard Combs, Losey’s reminiscences, the US pressbook, contemporary reviews and all the rest of it. The 2K restoration is presented in two 96-minute versions, as either The Damned or These Are the Damned. Rigby, Barnes, Lyons and in this case Nick Riddle present an overview of the film and there’s a commentary track courtesy of Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan. You get alternative appraisals from Neil Sinyard and I Q HunterFilm plus an interview with filmmaker Gavrik Losey, son of the director and always an acute analyst of his father’s work. Film historian Lindsay Hallam profiles Viveca Lindfors. There are interviews with first time screen writer Evan Jones, brought in by Losey to  improve the screenplay (so God knows what kind of shape it was originally in) and camera operator Anthony Heller. Possibly the most engaging interviews of all are with grown up radioactive munchkins David Palmer, Kit Williams and Christopher Witty, who all seem to have developed juvenile crushes on Shirley Anne Field (and why on Earth wouldn’t they?), who is also interviewed. Here at THOF we’ve never knowingly spurned an opportunity to run a picture of SAF looking lurvely and why should this posting be any different?

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The Poughkeepsie Shuffle, Reshuffled. BADGE 373 Reviewed.

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Sonny Grosso (l), Eddie Egan (r).

BD. Indicator. Region B. 15.

In 1962, New York cops Sonny Grosso and Eddie Egan masterminded a massive drugs bust, seizing a (then) record haul of 112lbs of heroin. How they got it was chronicled in a 1969 book by Robin Moore, entitled The French Connection. William Friedkin read the book and was very impressed, especially with the maverick figure cut by Egan, reimagined as Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and played by Gene Hackman in the subsequent Academy Award winning film of the same title (1971). Egan himself played “Doyle”s superior officer and there was also a small role for Grosso. Both were credited as technical advisors and, obviously feeling that films about cops walking the mean streets of NYC were a cushier career option than actually walking them, proceeded to advise on / appear in several subsequent movies. Grosso took a small part in the following year’s Ocar winner, The Godfather, as one of the guys who assassinates Sonny Corleone (alongside Randy Jürgensen, another former cop who followed a similar career trajectory, clocking up roles in The French Connection, Friedkin’s Cruising with Grosso again,  Philip D’Antoni’s The Seven-Ups and the film under consideration here).

158_BADGE_373_BD_2D_packshot_72dpi_1000px_transp_720x.pngHoward W. Koch’s Badge 373 is another highly fictionalised account of Eddie Egan’s “exploits” (as they are styled in his writing credit). This time Robert Duvall plays the Egan character (“Eddie Ryan“) and Egan himself plays his boss Scanlon, who spends most of his time trying, in vain, to get Ryan to toe the line. Ooh, the irony…

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We first make Ryan’s acquaintance during an attempted sting at a Puerto Rican night spot, where he pursues a runaway suspect to the roof, only for the latter to fall to his death. Ryan is is handed a disciplinary suspension but when his partner is bumped off while continuing their investigations into hispanic crime lord Sweet William (Henry Darrow), Ryan disregards Scanlon’s order to stay on the sidelines and goes after his man. Among many other scrapes, this involves him in an epic vehicular chase that is clearly intended to invoke the one in The French Connection but with the twist of Ryan driving a commandeered bus. At the end of this sequence the bad guys make a point of smashing his gun hand after which he pushes himself, Django-style, in preparation for the ultimate showdown with Sweet William (who’s shipping guns to a projected armed uprising in Puerto Rico), a showdown given added urgency after Ryan’s girlfriend Maureen (Verna Bloom) has also been offed.

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Pete Hamill’s screenplay doesn’t do Egan any favours, making no bones about his casual racism. At the same time, the hispanic characters and their daily struggles are sympathetically presented and although Sweet William (below) is a palpable bastard, he gets a final soliloquy in which he rails about the white “justice” system that turned him into one, making some valid points that Ryan can only answer with bullets. J. J. Jackson’s smoky salza score compliments DP Arthur Ornitz’s sweeping Manhattan vistas beautifully.

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Indicators limited (to 3,000 copies) edition UK Blu-ray Premiere comes with a 36 page collectors’ booklet, trailers, TV and radio spots and image galleries. In the featurette Welcome to Fear City, Randy Jürgensen remembers the life and career of Eddie Egan and discusses their experiences in the film industry. In Lethal Enforcers, film critic Glenn Kenny contributes a useful guide to the American maverick cop genre of the ’70s, which I found particularly enjoyable when combined in a double bill with Mike Malloy’s Eurocrime! documentary.

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Signs Of The Times… A Round Up Of Recent INDICATOR Releases

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They Made Me A Fugitive. BD. Indicator. Region Free. PG.
The System. BD. Indicator. Region Free. 12.
90º In The Shade. BD. Indicator. Region Free. 12.
Hussy. Indicator. Region Free. 18.

Over the course of three short years Indicator has become a label to be reckoned with, boasting a track record of quality restorations, beautifully packaged and loaded with niche extras rivalling the kind of stuff you’d expect to find on releases from the BFI (with whom Indicator seem to work in close cahoots). This latest batch of limited (to 3,000 units each) editions comprises telling snapshots of developing social and sexual mores in the UK (and Prague!) over some thirty odd years.

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Alberto Cavalcanti’s They Made Me A Fugitive (1947) is part of what is now perceived as a Golden Age of British Cinema, though received in its day as residing very much on the seamy underside of that glittering era… not exactly St. John L. Clowes’ No Orchids For Miss Blandish (1948) in terms of notoriety, but definitely not a very nice film. How could it be, when it deals with the morally distorting fallout of the Second World War (with similar forensic intensity to Carol Reed’s The Third Man, 1949)?

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Trevor Howard is demobbed RAF man Clem Morgan, trying to make sense of “peacetime” in bleak ol’ Blighty. A sense of existential ennui drives him into common criminal cause with the psychotic Narcy (Griffith Jones). That’s “Narcy”, as in narcissistic, nasty, Nazi… and narcotics. When Clem refuses to get involved in the dope trade, Narcy frames him for the murder of a copper and he ends up breaking rocks on Dartmoor… only to escape and home in on his nemesis, embarking upon an odyssey through an ethically empty terrain where he encounters a seemingly respectable woman planning to murder her husband and hitches a lift from a sinister, sadistic lorry driver. These moral distortions run parallel with alarming visual outbreaks for which much credit must go to cinematographer Otto Heller but which also remind us that  Cavalcanti directed the deeply unsettling “Ventriloquist’s Dummy” episode in 1945’s Horror portmanteau classic Dead Of Night. One of the problems contemporary critics had with TMMAF was its stylishly shot misogyny (gialloesque before its time?)… “What’s England Coming To?”

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This UK Blu-ray premiere is a 2K restoration by the British Film Institute, whose Kieron Webb outlines all the work that went into that on one of the bonus featurettes. Film historian Neil Sinyard delivers an illuminating appreciation of TMMAF in another. Trevor Howard features in two bonus shorts, 1941’s Squaring The Circle (a dramatised Royal Air Force training film in which he makes his first screen appearance) and The Aircraft Rocket (1944), an extract from a multi-part RAF technical film. There are image galleries and an archival audio recording of the John Player Lecture with Cavalcanti from 1970, when nobody apparently had any qualms about sponsorship by tobacco companies. There’ll be an accompanying booklet stuffed with essays too, but (and this also goes for everything reviewed below), I haven’t seen that yet.

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There’s more misogyny, albeit expressed (for the most part) via utterances and attitudes in The System (1964, U.S. title The Girl Getters), a drama of social and sexual manners whose guiding existential ennui is generated by ’60s Affluence rather than post-war Austerity. The eponymous “system” refers to the modus operandi of girl-hunting buckos on the make in Devon at the height of the holiday season rather than any crack at British class arrangements, though the film does kind of mutate into that as its story develops.  Oliver Reed is the philosophical beach bum (taking sunbathers’ photos, unsolicited, then asking them for money? Try that now and see where it gets you) who, for all his macho front, finds himself getting hooked on upper crust model Nicola (Jane Merrow, a late replacement for Julie Christie).

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The film which started getting attention for its director Michael Winner, The System contrasts very favourably with e.g. Ken Russell’s unwatchable (despite the presence of Marisa Mell in its cast) French Dressing, shot and released at virtually the same points in 1964. At that time your money would have been on Winner emerging as the more interesting director (a bet you’d obviously have lost). Then again, Winner is leaning heavily here on writer Peter Draper and his DP Nic Roeg. Why wouldn’t he? Roeg turns in some characteristically extraordinary shots in what is a fairly ordinary picture and there’s plenty of testimony in the supplementary interviews regarding how much Winner deferred to his judgement.

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By the time he penned his unreliable memoir, 2004’s Winner Takes All (relevant fragments of which, I’m reliably informed, will appear in the booklet accompanying this release) the director had become altogether less modest and suggested that The System (specifically the scenes of larking around on a train) preceded A Hard Day’s Night (a quick glmpse at IMDB confirms that the opposite is true) and that Epstein wanted him to direct the Beatles’ flick… sure thing, Mike. No Fabs here, so Winner makes do with The Marauders, The Rocking Berries and the Searchers, who contribute an annoying ear worm of a title song (co-written by by Bobby Richards and Mike “Jeff Randall” Pratt). He did benefit from the services of a strong cast of up’n’comers… John Alderton… Julia Foster… a curiously underused David Hemmings, just two years away from Antonioni’s Blow Up. The bonus interviews on this HD remastered BD world premiere include predictable tales of Reed Rowdysim, though by all accounts Ollie was very reluctant to strike Merrow for real and ultimately bullied into it by Winner, whose non-fan club will no doubt receive a posthumous boost in membership on account of that and other anecdotes on this disc… What’s England coming to? Cast members Merrow, John Porter-Davison and Jeremy Burnham reminisce to good effect, there’s an audio commentary from film historians Thirza Wakefield and Melanie Williams, plus image gallery. Haunted England  is Winner’s woefully unfunny 1961 travelogue about British stately homes and their ghostly inhabitants, hosted by an embarrassed looking David Jacobs, which you might find yourself wishing had remained interred.

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What was Czechoslovakia coming to in 1965? Jiří Weiss’s 90º In The Shade portrays a Prague not overly troubled with the problems of Affluence but still seething with troublesome social and sexual politics. Anne Heywood (from The Killer Is On The Phone, et al) is convenience store worker Alena, who’s having an unsatisfying clandestine affair with her married manager Vorell (James Booth from Zulu), a jack the lad who’s drinking / appropriating his way through the store’s non-selling stock of expensive spirits. Enter the auditor Rudolf Kurka (Lucio Fulci lookalike Rudolf Hrusinsky from Juraj Herz’s Cremator, 1969) and the jig might well be up. Cue a mad night for Vorrell and Alena, scrambling all over the city in an attempt to drum up replacement booze and the money to buy it. Their efforts are in vain and I’ll give you three guesses as to who ends up carrying the, er, can. Meanwhile the stuffy auditor, himself trapped in an unhappy family situation, goes through a humanising experience due to his involvement with Alena. Not exactly a happy ending, though. Is it all an allegory of the build up to the coming Dubcek thaw? It would take a greater expert in Czech politics and culture than me to tell you…

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“Lucio who?”

… which is why it’s a good reason that Michael Brooke supplies the audio commentary to this Blu-ray world premiere. One of the fascinating things about this English / Czech co-production is that the English and Czech language versions, quite aside from there significantly different running times (the English language version, at 91 minutes, running longer than the Třicet Jedna Ve Stínu cut by a full 8 minutes) frequently feature alternative shots and takes. Both versions appear (as 2K and HD restorations, respectively) here and Brooke details their differences in one of the disc’s bonus featurettes. Other bonus goodies include an archival audio review with director Jiří Weiss and three of his WWII propaganda shorts, supporting Czech and Norwegian resistance to the invading Nazis and bigging up the Soviet airforce. Stirring stuff.

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After all those Angry Young Men, it’s time to turn the spotlight onto a Tart With A Heart… Mathew Chapman’s Hussy (1980) stars Helen Mirren as Beaty, an escort / single mum seeking  a better life for her and her son. Can she find it with American drifter Emory (John Shea) or will compromising past entanglements (in which Emory himself becomes increasingly entangled) frustrate their developing love story and her longed for escape from seedy pick up joints?

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Neither as raunchy as Caligula (1979) nor as gritty as The Long Good Friday (1980), between which it sits equidistantly poised on Mirren’s illustrious resumé, Hussy is a romantic melodrama involving people who make their living in the down market smut milieu, rather than a piece of down market smut. Inevitably, the latter is how it was presented in the UK media, as regretfully conceded in the supplementary featurettes by producer Don Boyd, among others. Maybe that’s why Mirren couldn’t be persuaded to associate herself with this release. John Shea, the ever fascinating Jenny Runacre (below with Dame HM) and OST composer George Fenton do get to have their say… sad that the ill-fated Sandy Ratcliff is no longer around to do so.

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Very much of its time (there are some casual references to sex tourism that wouldn’t go down very well today) Hussy is a beautifully vivid evocation of life in late ’70s London, more properly (after all, how would I know?) of London life as it was lived on the likes of The Sweeney and Minder… I’m surprised it hasn’t turned up on ITV 4 recently. Then again, now that we have this HD remastered UK BD premiere, there’s no need for that. After all the misogyny soaked up by the female leads of the other three films in this batch, Hussy’s upbeat conclusion comes as a welcome relief.

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The real hidden gem here is an archival audio micro interview (all 4 minutes of it) with Hussy’s poster artist Sam Peff (1921-2014), whose distinguished career illustrating pulp paperback covers, quad posters and video boxes (Peff’s iconic / notorious work on Go Video’s release of Cannibal Holocaust is just one of his contributions to this field) deserve a more expansive featurette… Severin, I’m looking at you!

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Venus Under The Viewing Lens… DIETRICH & VON STERNBERG AT PARAMOUNT (1930-1935).

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BD. Powerhouse / Indicator. Region B. 12.

Femme Fatales. Wannabe Femme Fatales. We’ve all encountered them at some point or other. Some of us still bear the scars. For which reason, such creatures are best confined to the Silver Screen. None more magnificently than Marlene Dietrich. That miraculous, unrepeatable face… those eighth and ninth wonders of the world, her legs… the “mocking smile” that “says it all”… the er, interesting vocalese (ah well, nobody’s perfect!)

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Powerhouse / Indicator’s splendid limited edition (6,000 copies) box set covers the six films in which Josef Von Sternberg sanctified his muse after Universum’s Der Blaue Engel  (1930) had brought both of them to the covetous attention of Hollywood.

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In Morocco (1930) MD is Mademoiselle Amy Jolly… the original Jolly good time, had by all? Whatever, she’s on the run from some hassle or heartache, wowing the locals and colonial types in Mogador with her top-hat-and-tuxedo cabaret drag routine. The French Foreign Legion march into town, a platoonful of kindred spirits each attempting to escape something or other in their own pasts. Légionnaire Tom Brown (Gary Cooper) immediately hits it off with Amy but is he prepared to reform his womanising ways? There’s an additional complication in the respectably bourgeois shape of Monsieur La Bessiere (Adolphe Menjou) who’s offering Amy a comfortable married life. Despite all the moths fluttering around her flame, Amy’s not a bad girl like Lola Lola, but there’s only so much of her to go around. Who will finally win her? Without wishing to give too much away, I’ll just say that even though she ultimately follows the dictates of her heart, Von Sternberg’s beautifully mounted denouement puts Amy in pretty much the same position as Lola had placed Emil Jannings’ character at the conclusion of The Blue Angel…

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Von Sternberg’s big anti-war statement Dishonored (1931) kicks off with Marie Kolverer (MD) plying her trade as a streetwalker in post WWI Vienna (if the gratuitous shot of her adjusting her stockings in the rain doesn’t get your attention, its difficult to imagine what might) until she’s offered the chance to serve her country as “Agent X27”. Marie takes to the espionage lark like a duck to water, deploying a bewildering array of fab outfits and alternative identities, alongside her irresistible physical charms, to flush out the agents of foreign powers and send them to their deaths… all from her sense of honour and patriotism rather than to feed any personal vanity. She meets her match with – and sacrifices her all for-  roguish Russian agent Colonel Kranau (Victor McLagen). Marie goes to the firing squad in stubborn pursuit of her heart’s desire but again, one wonders if this is a fitting outro for a femme fatale

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Back in the far flung corners of Empire, things are looking more promising in Shanghai Express (1932). “It took more than one man” to make Dietrich’s character Shanghai Lily, as she famously purrs, but the one who really counts is Captain Donald Harvey (Clive Brook). She snubs him for dastardly Henry Chang (former Fu Manchu, current Charlie Chan Warner Oland) but only to dissuade the latter from inflicting a fiendishly gruesome fate on Captain Don. When the latter cottons on to what’s happening,  things resolve themselves in an unalloyed happy ending… bah!

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As well as his genius for lighting (like Mario Bava, this is a director who often took over his films’ cinematography from the credited technician… though I’m not sure that Bava ever physically removed a DP from any of his sets), JVS here demonstrates his knack for packing the screen with layers of busy action, tantamount to a kind of quasi-3D.

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Marlene’s Helen Faraday is another good girl gone bad, but for the noblest of reasons, in 1932’s Blonde Venus. When her physicist husband Ned (Herbert Marshall) comes down with cancer as a result of his pioneering experiments with radium, Helen packs him off to Europe with monies ostensibly earned from her nightclub act (her emergence from a monkey suit topped only by opening scenes which anticipate Hedy Lamarr’s celebrated bathing scenes from Ecstasy, the following year) but actually stumped up by her admirer, smoothie politico Nick Townsend (Cary Grant). Ned returns with his cancer cured (just like that) to learn exactly how Helen earned the dough, withdrawing his affection and their son Johnny (Dickie Moore). Helen goes on the lam and into destitution with Johnny, before a further series of improbable plot twists see the story concluded on an awkward note of  tentative reconciliation.

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JVS complained that his original vision of Blonde Venus had been watered down on the insistence of producers but worse was to come. By 1934 the Hays Production Code (inaugurated in 1930) was implemented in full force and effect. No chance, then, of his Catherine The Great biopic The Scarlet Empress including any (but the most oblique) reference to CTG’s alleged dalliance with a stallion (if only Joe D’Amato had been around to direct this one…)

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We do witness MD’s transformation (and a neat, actorly job it is, too) from naive German Princess Sophie Frederica of Anhalt-Zerbst to the ruthless, man-eating “Messalina of the North”, contextualised by Von Sternberg and co-scripter Manuel Komroff (allegedly adapting Catherine’s own diaries) by her need to survive and eventually supplant her batshit crazy husband, the Grand Duke Peter (briefly Czar Peter III). Gore Vidal tried for something similar with his original screenplay for Tinto Brass’s Caligula (1979), before producer Bob Guccione wrung very drop of subtelty out of that project. Sam Jaffe’s magnificent, scenery-chewing portrayal of Peter nearly steals the show, but the real star here is Hans Dreier’s grotesque, gothic set design, around which Von Sternberg’s camera sinuously prowls. The film’s closing montage features a triumphant Catherine stroking her horse, presumably to elicit a laugh or two from those in the know.

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So far, Dietrich’s characters in these films have been a source of fascination and probably peril for men but all have been depicted with redeeming features or accompanying insights into what made them the way they are, as though JVS was struggling to justify to himself his own fixation on the actress. By the time we get to 1935 and the contract filler The Devil Is A Woman (co-written by John Dos Passos, no less), he’s had it with Paramount, with Dietrich and her relentless faithlessness. In the way she uses and abuses such dogged devotees as Lionel Atwill and Cesar Romero, her Concha Perez manages to outbitch even Lola Lola (Philipp Blom’s characterisation of the latter holds equally true for her: “Unashamedly sexy… a typical creature of interwar hardship who does not give a damn about titles and bourgeois rituals and is only interested in making a buck, having a little fun and living to see tomorrow” *) And don’t they just love it…

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JVS’s son Nicholas touches discretely on his father’s relationship with Dietrich in his useful filmed introductions to each of the films, together with insights into Von Sternberg the insatiable traveller, Art collector and Naive Artist in his own right. The beautiful 4k restorations and audio clean ups are further complimented by other extras in the kind of abundance we’ve come to expect from Indicator / Powerhouse. Documentary features and featurettes delve deeper into the romantic ups and downs of Dietrich and her Pygmalion. Audio commentators on the main features include such luminaries as Tony Rayns, David Thompson, Adrian Martin and the dynamic duo of Ellinger / Deighan. There’s a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of Morocco (“The Legionnaire and the Lady”) from 1936, with Dietrich and Clark Gable as Tom Brown… Harry (Daughters Of Darkness) Kümel’s 1969 feature-length TV doc on von Sternberg, incorporating rare interview footage… Jasper Sharp’s examination of the life and career of Shanghai Express co-star Anna May Wong… The Fashion Side of Hollywood (1935), a Paramount promotional short featuring MD’s preferred  costume designer Travis Banton (@rachael_nisbet. I was thinking about you while watching this one) … the inevitable Dietrich, a Queer Icon (2019)… and that’s barely the half of it.

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Most intriguingly, there’s The Twilight of an Angel, Dominique Leeb’s acclaimed French television documentary from 2012, which concerns itself with Dietrich’s reclusive later life, during which she shielded her fading physicality from public view, allegedly spending her last 15 years in bed, a prisoner of her own iconic screen image.

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The girl can’t help it…

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(*) Fracture: Life And Culture In The West, 1918-1938

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Loads More Mister Nice Guy… NORMAN J. WARREN Celebrated On Indicator’s BLOODY TERROR Box Set.

maxresdefault.jpg“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…

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BD. Indicator. Region Free. 18.

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.

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The Terror mounts. In Terror.

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.

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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.

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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…

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“Ooh, that’s gotta hurt…”

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.

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“If you pick them, they’ll never get better…” Prey.

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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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! (*)

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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?

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Keep your eye on Norman J. Warren, one nice guy who hopefully isn’t finished just yet.

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(*) So obviously our next posting, arriving imminently, will be… The Norman J. Warren Interview!!!

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