We’ve always liked the late-period Hammers more than the acknowledged “classic” ’50s films, so thank heavens for the tide of popular opinion turning of late, and another showing of this prime example of their post-Carry On Screaming oeuvre. Camper, more self-mocking than the old ones, yes, but in a desperate attempt to wring something new out of the extremely limited Gothic horror sub-genre that was their stock in trade, the Hammerites came up with the truly bizarre and massively over the top likes of this gem from Robert ‘Keep it up Downstairs’ Young. What’s it got? It’s got the lot! Burnings, decapitations, pillagings, Castilian conflagrations, child/animal/dwarf abuse, and probably the best pre-credits sequence of any film ever. Creepy, irrepressible vampire count Robert Tayman (Joan’s chauffeur in The Stud, natch) terrorises a small unpronounceable Serbian town, before being killed with the obligatory “I will return” speech. Years later, the plague-stricken town plays host to a dodgy travelling circus helmed by Tayman’s cousin Anthony ‘Draughtsman’s Contract’ Higgins and led by Adrienne ‘viddy well’ Corri, featuring regulation dozy animals, Dave Prowse lifting weights, and a bloodthirsty Lalla ‘Romana II’ Ward, who set about killing and shafting their way through the townspeople in between holding their rather suspect performances, before everyone rallies round Burgermeister Thorley ‘Bulman’ Walters for the inevitable final confrontation with the massed forces of darkness. All this and Lynne ‘Mrs Peter Sellers IV’ Frederick, Mary ‘Aunt Lavinia off of K9 and Company’ Wimbush and a young Jenny ‘Zammo’s mum’ Twigge too… look, isn’t that a blank VHS on top of the bookshelf?
V is for…
This Amicus portmanteau is crap. Everyone says so. The critics minced it with down-the-nose-isms like “beleaguered grotesque” and “waste of a talented cast”. The audience stayed away in their thousands. EC Comics head honcho Big Fat Bill Gaines hated it so much (in contrast to Amicus’ previous adaptation of his properties, Tales From the Crypt) he huffily stomped off with the rights to any further productions, thus denying us the prospect of such tantalising Subotskiana as More Tales From the Crypt, Haunt of Fear and the 3-D Tales of the Incredible. Even director Roy Ward Baker hated it, and when he barks horror fans jump.
Thing is, it isn’t crap. Honest. OK, so the gambit of having five tales instead of the usual four is spreading the chilling chips a little thin on the bloodcurdling baize of the creepy casino (we’re even starting to annoy ourselves here, sorry). For instance, Michael Craig’s tale wherein he fakes his own death, only for gravedigger Arthur Mullard and ‘do you see?’ cameoing med students Robin ‘Doctor’ Nedwell and Geoffrey ‘Doctor’ Davies to louse things up with a bit of rubbish graverobbing falls a bit flat, and the one where Curt Jurgens gets his via a load of old rope is money for precisely that, the presence of Dawn Addams lounging about in some nifty silk pyjamas notwithstanding. But three out of five is pretty good going. The marvellously titled vampire dealy Midnight Mess sees Daniel Massey admitting he’s never been to a Horrific Harvester before, and impersonating a Grand Guignol version of a Stowell’s of Chelsea wine box for his trouble. Then klutzy Glynis Johns reaches the end of her tether with pathologically fastidious Terry-Thomas, and sends him the way of a Hayward’s pickled onion, in one of the best “funny” horror portmanteau interlues ever attempted, and all set within the most 1970s suburban house you ever did see (love that yellow cookware set!)
Best of all is, of course, the well-documented Drawn and Quartered, with Tom Baker in Bohemian beard and repulsively wide-gauged corduroy suit, getting his revenge on the art world (in the shape of Denholm Elliot and Terence Alexander) via a bit of voodoo painting hocus-pocus, until vanity and a clumsy decorator lead to his inevitable downfall. Point of order about that last tale – when Baker tests out his newfound capabilities to make anything he paints become reality, he settles for drawing a slice of bread, then erasing a bite being taken out of it. If he wanted conclusive proof from the off, why didn’t he paint, say, a unicycling otter with the face of Gilbert Harding? Granted, the bracketing story and its final revelation (a clumsy mixture of the punchlines from Dead of Night and Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors) is no great shakes despite being set in a stylish octagonal dungeon-cum-Late-Night-Line-Up-set, and it can’t hold a cobwebbed candle to From Beyond the Grave, but than again, what can? (Oh, and Marianne Stone is of course here, as Glynis’s chum in the T-T tale.)
TV CREAM SAYS: FEATURES A CAMEO APPEARANCE FROM THE 'TALES FROM THE CRYPT' PAN NOVELISATION!
Paul Newman plays a Lionel Hutz-alike washed-up lawyer, kick-started back into life by Jack ‘Crazy like a Fox’ Warden. As featured on Before They Were Famous, due to Bruce Willis in the background of a courtroom scene, and also starring Charlotte Rampling, James Mason and Milo O’Shea, who once recalled to us an incident where he was set about by an elderly American lady with an umbrella for being “nasty to that nice Mr Newman!”
TV CREAM SAYS: HOORAY FOR O'SHEA!
“Billing German art cinema, Herr Cream? Bit bourgeois, isn’t it?” Well, a) it’s a lean old week as regards our usual fare, and b) this is rather good as it goes. Gay-as-you-earn director Rainer Fassbinder does his usual ‘doomed woman’ thing, this time with a faded pre-war actress kept prisoner by a drug-dealing scientist. Homage to said Golden Age is paid via singularly fantastic black-and-white photography and some lovely old-fashioned circular wipes between scenes.
TV CREAM SAYS: GOOD BEEF, BY T'MASS!
From the writers of Splash and the director of Sesame Street: Follow That Bird! Lord have mercy. This is one more example of the sort of wacky screwball adventure caper thrown together all over the studios after the shock success of Romancing the Stone pulled the rug from under everyone’s feet. This particular shameless Xerox had the added ‘gimmick’ of hilarious psychic powers, to boot. Cyndi Lauper is a – cough – ‘Small Medium at Large’, all squeaky voice, Toyah hair and ‘Ohmigod’ popping eyeballs, who’s thrown together with gawky table-sniffing psychic Jeff Goldblum to form the perfect ‘oddball’ pair for Peter Falk to enlist in tracking down some long-lost South American mystic pyramid wherein reside awesome supernatural powers and lumpily-rotoscoped sub-Raiders visual effects. Yes there’s fast-talking but not actually funny dialogue by the yard, yes they finally get off with each other against the odds, yes Lauper sings the sig, no there’s no DeVito-esque swearing, and no, nobody really bothered going to see it. This didn’t stop David Puttnam later looking back on it with affection, though. The man’s an enigma, right enough.
TV CREAM SAYS: ICK!
If we had a pound for every version of the old F Anstey body swap chestnut filmed over the years… Memories of the Peter Ustinov-helmed classic version (with Roger Livesey as the heroically monikered Paul Bultitude) were doubtless what were uppermost in David Puttnam’s mind when he commissioned this Clement-La Frenais version, but all such nice thoughts were swept aside when Judge Rheinhold and Fred ‘That was the moment I began to realise’ Savage cropped up in this Americanised, updated, Roberta Flack soundtracked hullabaloo. As we’ve mused before, what these sort of films all get so wrong is that the children all play the adults as far too old and vice versa (do you see what we did there?) so you get Rheinhold behaving like a four year old with a behavioural problem and Savage playing a thirty year old man who smokes a pipe. We bet even Ian Carmichael didn’t smoke a pipe at thirty! And we bet Columbia’s sister production house Tri-Star exchanged a few angry memoes with Dave after hearing about this project, scheduled to go toe-to-toe with their near-identical Dudley Moore vehicle Like Father, Like Son. In the end there was no need to worry – both versions bottomed out in their own time.
TV CREAM SAYS: GET THE OOSTI-BOOSTI VERSION
Let us pause to muse (watch out for Pause to Muse, an erudite new Nigel Rees panel game on Radio 4 next Wednesday lunchtime) on the brief heyday of the Video Nasty. It’s an odd phenomenon, really – practically all the films banned by the notorious Video Recordings Act of Achievement 1984 are so laughably hopeless it’s not true, yet the whole Video Recordings Act/kid in playground who reckoned he’d seen one/dodgy Betamax copies in garishly decorated, oversize sleeves/Nationwide studio debate angle is vibrantly evocative of the days when VCRs were not only exotic wonders available only to those with an eight-wheeler income or whose dad – cough – ‘knew a man at Rumbelows’, but were actually referred to as ‘VCRs’ by real people. Heady days. So, seeing as we’ve somehow avoided this before, and with no little help from Video Nasties: Freedom and Censorship in the Media, a stonking work by the only academic TV Cream would have round the fireplace for pikelets, the sainted Professor Martin ‘Learned treatise on Action comic’ Barker of the University of Wales, here’s our gristlestop guide to those 74 films briefly conferred mythical status by the ham-fisted maneuverings of those pesky High Tories. Right, kids?
Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox, Antrophagous the Beast, Prisoners of a Cannibal God, Cannibal Apocalypse, Cannibal Up the Khyber etc
Well, it’s yer Last Taboo, innit? These grim gizzard-gobbling picaresques tend to be set in either a scrappy-looking bit of South American jungle (‘Where life is cheap!’) or some dingy basement somewhere in the Deep South. Either way it involves bottom-rung thespians munching awkwardly on a slab of raw pig offal pulled out of a latex head that bears little resemblance to the actor who’s just been supposedly slaughtered, while affecting a crazed look as the disease takes hold. Ferox is the sleaziest, as they actually cut up real animals for a laugh – the ‘80s equivalent of a titchy delinquent’s mobile phone footage. Yum.
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE RIP-OFFS
Californian Axe Massacre, Toolbox Murders
Shamelessly cashing in on the big name du jour in gore, and not caring who knows it, these are true no-nonsense, tin-label-fulfilling films – Ronseal Nasties. Literally, in the latter case.
ELM STREET/FRIDAY THE 13TH RIP-OFFS
The Boogeyman, The Burning
If you loved the originals, you’ll probably be lukewarm about the rip-offs. If you couldn’t be bothered with the originals, well, what are you doing looking at these, anyway? Electric Blue’s down the next aisle, chum.
GRISLY, GLOATING DEPICTIONS OF VIOLENT SEXUAL ASSAULT WHERE THE VICTIM GETS HER EQUALLY GRISLY REVENGE AT THE END WHICH MAKES EVERYTHING OK
I Spit on Your Grave
Rubber-cocked shit in a bathtub, quite frankly.
DAS NAUGHTY NAZIS
SS Experiment Camp, The Beast in Heat, Gestapo’s Last Orgy
Before endless satellite channels lasciviously dramatised every last machination of the Nazi war machine down to the contents of Rudolf Hess’ sock drawer, curtain-dodging Nuremberg nuts had to make do with these badly staged Mengele-style atrocities carried out by duff actors. Whatever amoral action these tapes’ prurient purchasers were hoping for, the rather tepid contents thankfully failed to deliver, thus scoring a perverse moral victory, of sorts.
Zombie Flesh-Eaters, Zombie Creeping Flesh, The Beyond
Feted in some circles as unsung masterworks of lyrical dismemberment. ‘The pierced eyeball scene in …Flesh Eaters is pure cinema!’ you’ll hear someone say if you hang around long enough outside the National Film Theatre. This will be your cue to go immediately home and watch Brief Encounter.
FILMS THAT START WITH ‘DON’T…’
Don’t Go Into the Woods, Don’t Go Near the Park, Don’t Look in the Basement
But you can bet someone does! The rather predictable video nasty equivalent of a Whitehall farce, sans Brian Rix.
OBVIOUSLY FAKE PRETEND DOCUMENTARIES
Snuff, Faces of Death
Really pathetic staged beheadings, executions, gorings by wild boar etc, interspersed with genuine-but-unremarkable car crash footage and the like. Snuff is especially egregious, with the final segment purporting to be a clip of a real, woman-killing snuff movie. It clearly isn’t, though. Put it away, Trevor.
CHEERY OLD ’60S DRIVE-IN FODDER THAT REALLY SHOULDN’T BE ON THE LIST
Herschell Gordon Lewis was an amiable purveyor of sub-Roger Corman schlock that revolved around southern hicks showering each other in torrents of unfeasibly scarlet fluid on flatly lit sets. Exactly why Leon Brittan felt this presented a major threat to the moral fibre of the United Kingdom, while simultaneously letting Kenny Everett’s hapless DIY practitioner Reg Prescott spurt equivalent amounts of Kensington Gore on a weekly basis at the Beeb, remains a mystery.
FILMS THAT COULD, AT LEAST IN COMPARISON TO THE ABOVE COBBLERS, BE CONSTRUED AS ‘PROPER’ FILMS
Blood Rites, Dead and Buried, Expose, Evil Dead, Last House on the Left, Shogun Assassin, Xtro
Yes, even Xtro. So you see how generous we’re keeping that definition of ‘proper’ here.
AND FILMS CRITICS THINK ARE PROPER FILMS, BUT ARE ACTUALLY JUST AS RUBBISH AS THE OTHER SHITE AND WE SAID SO
The Driller Killer, Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, Killer Nun
Even we have limits.
TV CREAM SAYS: OH, HAVE WE GOT A VIDEO?
In a recent Creamguide (Films) straw poll of saucy Mexican IRA comedy westerns, this came fairly near the top. Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau are blonde circus performers in turn-of-the-century Mexico who accidentally invent the Bucks Fizz skirt routine before hooking up with communist revolutionary George Hamilton. It’s a heady brew and no mistake! Kenny Everett-style sight gags, Good Old Days-style musical numbers and a light dusting of knockabout sixties satire from the usually far from daffy Louis Malle.
TV CREAM SAYS: RESPONSIBLE, AT LEAST IN PART, FOR FILM RATINGS BEING INTRODUCED IN THE US
Peter Ustinov does a comedy Mexican general in this intentionally zany Alamo update with Harry ‘M*A*S*H’ Morgan and Kenneth “two coats, one afternoon” Mars. Pete reminisced that whilst at the opening of this the local mayor said to the crowd that it was a good thing to laugh at oneself whilst, “never forgetting our greatness.” Which is a funnier line that you’ll find anywhere in the film, unfortunately.