Adapted from Ludovic Kennedy’s splendid book and featuring Sir Lord Richard of Attenborough’s best performance. The true story of a man – played by John Hurt – wrongly accused of murdering his wife and his landlord John Christie, portrayed by Attenborough with blood curdling coolness – who actually did, this is another film that has the ability to both horrify the viewer and make them seethe with fury over the official injustice of it all (cf The Hill). We often find this sort of film far more terrifying than what is usually thought of as horror simply because it is all so real and because we know, of course, that it is all true. Hurt’s character is – and was – executed and it was many years before Christie’s guilt became known. Hurt is superb, conveying the simple-mindedness of his subject brilliantly and his wide-eyed exasperation at what is happening to him is heartbreaking but Attenborough is the dead centre of the film, so chilling that you can’t take your eyes off him, as much as you want to.
T is for…
“Gooooot a whale of a tale to tell you lads, a whale of a tale or two-oo…” Kirk ‘snails’ Douglas steals the show – just – against heavy opposition from James Mason, Paul Lukas and Herbert Lom in this Disney version of Verne’s classic from the days when the words ‘Disney version’ meant something quite good and weren’t a prelude to nausea. So much to see here; the attack on the ships, the dinner, the penal colony, the giant squid, Ocalina Fagiolina…the list goes on.
TV CREAM SAYS: EAT YOUR PUDDING!
Fresh from his yak-toting cameo in Head, Frank Zappa made this gorggy orgy of groupies, frogs and horses, and suddenly the Monkees film looks like Chariots of Fire in comparison. Filming at Pinewood (next door to 2001) in little over a week, Zappa used video cameras to cut costs and flood every frame with multiple Chromakeyed images, queasy colour saturations and restless fuzziness in general, in what starts out as a satire on a typical rock tour of America but quickly descends into a headache-inducing kaleidoscope soup. Keith Moon plays a nun. Ringo Starr plays Zappa. Ringo’s chauffeur stands in for Wilfrid Brambell.
TV CREAM SAYS: A GRAND TIME IS HAD BY ALL
A forty minute wonder that distills the scaremongering essence of the many ‘don’t talk to strangers’ films which were shown in school across the realm (with local bobby in attendance), this salacious slice of cautionary sauce is rendered in the same overcast, washed-out colours as any conventional example of the Central Office of Information’s fear-stoking output. Various tales of hitch-hiking woe at the hands of sleazy truckers, rich ‘swinging’ couples and an unseen black-gloved monster in a sports car are stiltedly acted out, linked by the obligatory stentorian voice over. A thoroughly grim little flick from the director who brought you ‘me too’ comedy The Ups and Downs of a Handyman, this was originally intended as a genuine cautionary programme for Southern Television, until the usual Soho suspects offered the makers more money to tailor it for the raincoat brigade.
TV CREAM SAYS: ALL THAT'S MISSING IS JIMMY SAVILE
Cliff Richard moved his film career on from the days of Una Stubbs and Summer Holiday with this wondrously frothy confection, which went all the way back to the ‘hey, let the kids groove’ ethos of the old ’50s rock ‘n’ roll films, by way of a promotional puff for a freshly Bull Ringed-up Birmingham. Cliff plays narrow boat-dwelling fast food entrepreneur Tim Matthews, who invents the Brumburger, markets it to tremendous success (and the chagrin of staunch socialist George Cole), sings a song about it and then, for reasons best known to himself, gets into a mini-hovercraft chase on the Gas Street canals, before triumphing over staid old Britain with his youthful winning ways. It is, you may have guessed, fantastic.
TV CREAM SAYS: BRUMBURGERS! BRUMBURGERS!
‘Shit! Piss! Fuck!’ Walter Matthau contends with subway train hijackers while Martin Balsam contends with an attack of the snifles in this fair adaptation of John Godey’s multiple first person narrative Book Club/school library favourite.
TV CREAM SAYS: THIS FILM HAS NEVER BEEN REMADE AT ALL, EVER
Lurid EC Comics stories are the source material here. A cowled Ralph Richardson predicts the grisly demises of five visitors to his crypt. Joan Collins does her husband in under the mistletoe and is set upon by a maniacal Santa for her sins. Ian Hendry fails to notice his death from a car crash. A nasty property developer hounds widower Peter Cushing to the grave, and beyond. Richard ‘Robin Hood’ Greene revisits the old Monkey’s Paw chestnut. Finally, the sadistic owner of a home for the blind sees his oppressed charges turn the tables via a razor blade-lined tunnel. Hammer veteran Freddie Francis calls the shots magnificently as the Amicus portmanteau charabanc finally hits full speed.
TV CREAM SAYS: NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH THE AWFUL GREEN-'N'-PURPLE US TV SERIES THAT PRECEDED JAMES WHALE IN THE UNLUCKIER ITV REGIONS
A ninety-minute longeur in which various ballet dancers (yes, that’s Wayne Sleep as Squirrel Nutkin) put on outsized, hideous animal heads with sightless, staring eyes, and prance about in queasily lurid woodland sets. The conflicting emotions of unfathomable boredom and mounting blind terror caused a short-circuit in the brain of many a tot of the day which in many cases still causes involuntary spasms and baleful cries in the middle of the night. Easily the sickest of this selection of films. Or indeed any selection.
TV CREAM SAYS: JEREMY FISHER IS PARTICULARLY HARROWING
A three-piece Corman Poe portmanteau, decorously worn by Vincent Price, who in the first fights with Maggie Pierce over his wife’s death, then gets bricked in by a wine-bibbing Peter Lorre, and finally hypnotises Basil Rathbone to cheat death. Oddly enough, the middle comedy segment is the most fun, thus reversing the Dead of Night Rule common to most portmanteaus, but then we’ve always preferred Corman at his silliest.
TV CREAM SAYS: FEATURING VINNIE IN A 'MELTY FACE' SCENE THAT ACTALLY LOOKS DEAD PAINFUL. 'WELL IT WOULD, WOULDN'T IT?' NO, WE MEAN 'IN REAL LIFE' PAINFUL
Hammer veteran Freddie Francis oversaw the death throes of the British portmanteau’s glory days with this frightfully silly Asylum-esque effort for World Film Services, written by Donald Sutherland’s vampiric wife from Doctor Terror…, no less! Donald Pleasence introduces Jack Hawkins to a series of loonies, who spin tales of an imaginary tiger, a haunted, time-travelling penny farthing, and the notorious story wherein Michael Jayston dumps Joan Collins for a walking tree.
TV CREAM SAYS: NOW IF THE TREE COULD SING, WE'D UNDERSTAND HIS ACTIONS
Yul Brynner is great thundering around in his non-descript accent as a Cossack chief leaping off of horses and chucking knives around and completely unaware that hundreds of years in the future Cossacks would be known mostly for dancing about on the Royal Variety Show and the Wheeltappers rather than doing the Tsar’s strong arm work for him. Rather erroneously his son here is Tony Curtis which is more a comment on the hairdressing abilities of mediaeval Tartars than anything else. The contrast between Brynner and Curtis results in all sorts of familial scrapes as Bernie falls in love and refuses to do the whole rape, ride, pillage, drink and plunder thing. And who can blame him. Yawn, yawn. At this juncture we will now relate our favourite (only) Brynner/Curtis joke: A man walked in to a barber’s and asked for a Tony Curtis hairdo, so the barber cut all his hair off, see. The man said You berk! Don’t you know who Tony Curtis is? And the barber said, I should do, I’ve seen the King And I fourteen times.
TV CREAM SAYS: LAUGH AT YOUR CONVENIENCE
‘Does snuff exist?’ ponders Channel Four, passim. Well, yes it does, it’s here, and it’s rated A. Screenwriter Gerald Durrell and director David Cobham did the more squeamish kids few favours in their adaptation of Henry Williamson’s treasured nature story with multiple, unflinchingly graphic scenes of violent otter mortality, climaxing with the eponymous tyke’s grisly fight to the death with the hounds of John ‘K9′ Leeson’s hunt party. Despite the omnipresence of the fur-lined gore, this harrowing film was screened in schools up and down the land. Peter Ustinov’s avuncular narration did little to ease the childhood terror brought on by so much shredded otter offal so closely photographed. The subsequent ‘let’s have a talk about what we’ve just seen’ topic work turned into a mass trauma therapy session for more than a few fragile souls.
TV CREAM SAYS: IF YOU EVER SEE A DOUBLE BILL OF THIS AND TALES OF BEATRIX POTTER - RUN!
“I thought you could get pregnant while by walking along a canal path while someone on the other side played the harmonica!” Rita Tushingham aside the dream partnership in this film is undoubtedly Dora Bryan and Peter ‘voice of the book’ Jones though Robert ‘Abner? That’s a foreign name isn’t it?’ Stephens is tremendously good too. But it’s Dora and Pete’s show all the way we’d say – though on reflection, and quite surprisingly, they don’t have much screen time together – making them, along with Richard Dreyfus and Terri Garr, one of film’s great couples.
TV CREAM SAYS: OH, AND MICHAEL 'NED' BILTON IS IN THERE, TOO
Looking for a Michael Crichton adaptation worse than Runaway? Look no further! George Segal is the epileptic computer tec given a brain-mounted microchip in an all-white futuro-hospital in an attempt to control his condition. We won’t reveal the results, but needless to say, the words “amok” and “running” loom large. Expect to see a demented Prince Charles speech appear in the Express the following Tuesday warning of the imminent danger to society of that bloke off The Hot Rock going on sluggishly paced killing sprees, and thinking he needs the loo when he doesn’t really.
TV CREAM SAYS: DOING THE THINGS A TERMINAL CAN
How come no-one mentions this film when debating the Precise Point Hollywood Films Went Crap? Anyway, there’s nothing left to say about this that hasn’t already been mulled over at great length on your shiny new region one DVD special edition box set extras disc, although we feel what’s missing from these big budget sci-fi releases is a heckling commentary by Tom Baker, which would certainly be the ‘killer app’ to make us get a DVD player. Baker commentating on Alien during a cinema screening – “I mean for God’s sake, stop walking around the spaceship like bloody estate agents! Why don’t they all go down the hole and just bore it to death?” See? It’d be brilliant.
TV CREAM SAYS: 'ARNIE'S PUTTING IT IN NOW' WOULD BE A MUCH BETTER CATCHPHRASE TOO.
Norman J Warren. The no-budget exploitation mogul has particular significance, as his oeuvre marks the exact point where the Right Kind of Horror ends and the wrong kind begins. We can just about take the confused eye-skewering meanderings of Satan’s Slave, but the rest we prefer to leave on the side of the plate. He did rubbish Alien rip-off Inseminoid, and here’s his rubbish Suspiria rip-off to shelve alongside it. In this post-Evil Dead world, we’re meant to love this sort of heroic, shoestring-budgeted, director’s-mates-at-the-weekend ultra cheapo fare, but watch most of them and you soon start to weary of championing the underdog. Poverty on its own is not a virtue, to quote the Duke of Westminster. Unless you love badly-acted, no-budget, plotless haunted house gorefests with no style, humour or any redeeming features whatsoever, we say don’t bother. Glynis Barber and Dr Who’s Ben Jackson vie for the dubious honour of Person You May Have Heard Of, there’s a famed scene where a bloke gets attacked by 900 feet of cine film that isn’t that good when you finally see it, Makepeace gets impaled on a tree, some old cars come to life, fly about and run over a copper, and there’s plenty of that cheapo horror signifier, green and magenta gels on all the lights.
TV CREAM SAYS: DEFIANT, RESOURCEFUL PENNYWISE FILMMAKING THIS AIN'T.
It’s not really a glam film, is That’ll, being set in the ’50s, but it does come from David Puttnam’s Goodtimes Enterprises, who did plenty of good work in this field, and there’s another cameo from Ringo Starr, as dodgem car attendant and mentor to David Essex’s wannabe rock star. There’s also Billy Fury as Stormy Tempest, Keith Moon as, er, Keith Moon, Robert Lindsay, Vivian Stanshall and Karl Howman among the names to look for, all set against a bleak Isle of Wight landscape, with woodbines and squalid caravan sex adding to the Byrite-budget grimness.
TV CREAM SAYS: IT'S A CRAP BUSINESS, OUR KID...
You’ve got to love that mid-’70s fad for making films of sitcoms, even ones that, like this feuding funeral directors farce, weren’t at all popular in the first place. Misplaced corpses, a memorial statue, a cremated casket full of hash, a will that inevitably keeps blowing out of people’s hands and some magnificently empty ’70s motorways provide the plot’s weak backbone, and the end result is – yep, a stoned comedy chase scene. Bill ‘Giddy Game Show’ Fraser, Roy ‘Hardwicke House’ Kinnear, Sue ‘Crossroads’ Lloyd, Richard ‘Sykes’ Wattis, Frank ‘Served?’ Thornton, Bob ‘Steam Video’ Todd, Hugh ‘Pardon My Genie’ Paddick, Michael ‘Buses’ Robbins and Michael ‘Hot Mum’ Knowles take part.
TV CREAM SAYS: ONE SAVING GRACE: ONE OF THOSE END CREDIT SEQUENCES WHERE EVERYONE INVOLVED WAVES CHEERILY AT THE CAMERA
Peter Sellers is Robert Danvers, a vain, rotten telly personality not too unlike Wee Sonny MacGregor from The Naked Truth. Unfortunately, unlike The Naked Truth this is pretty poor. Goldie Hawn giggles along and they go on holiday and she remakes him and he becomes a nice person and um-tiddly ido tra-la-la. However, Tony ‘cravat in Sainsbury’s’ Britton, Diana ‘it come from Cecil Gee’s’ Dors and – hooray! – Marianne Stone are all on hand to lift the gloom.