Saturday 7 February 2015

Hands of the Ripper (1971)


For me the most intriguing and interesting period in Hammer Film Productions’ long history is from 1970-76. By this stage Hammer were no longer the despised whipping boys of the critical cognoscenti but were establishment figures. In a remarkable about turn from the late 1950’s they were now the acceptable face of the horror genre in British film culture. But some things are more important than critical acceptance, and one of those things is commercial success. At the turn of the decade Hammer found themselves out of step and out of time, thanks in no small part to the cynical nihilism of hard hitting horror productions such as Witchfinder General (1968) and Night of the Living Dead (1968), and the subtle and nuanced terrors of rigorously modern films like Rosemary’s Baby (1968). The release of controversial films such as Straw Dogs (1971), A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Devils (1971), and later horror titles such as The Exorcist (1973) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) would only further dilute Hammer’s horrifying visions. Hammer had little choice but to turn to nudity, increased violence, and scenes of softcore lesbianism, in a series of films which had little to differentiate them from the sexploitation product distributed with seemingly unending regularity in mainland Europe.

Saturday 10 January 2015

Curtains (1983)

Country: CANADA

Beset by production difficulties, the 1983 Canadian slasher flick Curtains, emerges from the early 80’s effluent as a quite thoughtful, intelligent, and at times lyrical contribution to the horror genre. The slasher film is the horror sub-genre that I have the lowest regard for, so when one comes across my screen that is a little bit different I tend towards generosity. In the case of Curtains I’m willing to overlook the myriad plot deficiencies; the only partially developed characters, and the patchy performances, because the film has a fairly original premise, and an offbeat tone that is most welcome. The producer of Curtains was Peter R. Simpson, who a few years before had scored a major commercial success with Prom Night (1980), and clearly sought to replicate that feat. Simpson evidently knew what ingredients were required to make a successful horror picture in a market place that was obese with derivative product. The first time director was Robert Ciupka, a cinematographer, who brought with him a wealth of visual artistry. Therein lies the tragedy of Curtains, the reason why there is a push and pull between the market and art, why the film only partially succeeds, why the film suffers from an uneven style and a number of structural weaknesses. It is also the reason the film, which commenced shooting in late 1980, didn’t see the light of day until 1983. A clash of philosophies between producer and director would ultimately be the films undoing and lead to marginalisation, commercial failure, and for fans of horror, badly distributed and poor quality releases.

Monday 21 July 2014

Poster Gallery - Vertigo (1958)

US POSTER - This artwork or variants of it was also utilised in Italian, Portugese, Argentinian, Spanish, French, and West German promotional campaigns




Saturday 19 July 2014

Reflections of Murder (1974) - TV Movie

Country: USA

Original Transmission Date: 24/11/1974

The detective novel Celle qui n’était plus by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac has proved itself to be a very durable and influential work for cinema. The first screen adaptation came in 1955 with the peerless French production Les Diaboliques, which was expertly and stylishly directed by the brilliant Henri-Georges Clouzot. This in turn was a major influence on Alfred Hitchcock who turned to the work of Boileau-Narcejac for his 1958 production Vertigo, and who also incorporated some of their narrative strategies in Psycho (1960). In Britain a whole slew of monochrome psychological thrillers were produced by Hammer, who were inspired by the resounding commercial success of Psycho, but sought their inspiration from Les Diaboliques. This is most keenly felt in Taste of Fear (1962 – US title Scream of Fear) which is replete with a swimming pool, and a fragile female protagonist. A rather drab and forgettable TV movie remake of Les Diaboliques appeared in 1993 under the title House of Secrets, airing on NBC it starred Bruce Boxleitner as the abusive spouse, Melissa Gilbert as the weak hearted wife, and Kate Vernon as the mistress. A $45 million remake followed in 1996 under the title Diabolique, and though it was intriguingly cast with Sharon Stone and Isabella Adjani, it failed to reach a sizeable audience and was universally panned by critics. Where these two films failed ABC’s movie-of-the-week Reflections of Murder, which aired on 24th November 1974, manages to succeed, and emerges as the second best screen adaptation of Boileau and Narcejac’s important novel.

Thursday 17 July 2014

Celluloid Sounds - Street Law (1974)

The 1974 ‘Euro-crime’ film Street Law is one of my personal favourites of the cycle. I took a risk on it when I imported Blue Underground’s DVD release of the film back in 2006. But I’ve always found that particular distributor to be very reliable in terms of quality and interest. The film was my entry point into the violent, exciting, reactionary, and uncompromising world of the Italian ‘Euro-crime’ cycle and for this I owe the film a debt of gratitude. The director of the film was Enzo G. Castellari who was no stranger to the various cycles that constituted popular cinema in Italy in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Castellari’s early westerns were rather drab and predictable affairs, singularly unmemorable, and offered little promise of the films to come. The first hint of Castellari’s capabilities came in the war film Eagles over London (1969). He followed this with the dour and lacklustre giallo Cold Eyes of Fear (1971), which unsurprisingly remained his only entry in this cycle.  For the next few years Castellari concentrated on crime pictures, creating an impressive and consistent body of work which included High Crime (1973), The Big Racket (1976), The Heroin Busters (1977), and Day of the Cobra (1980).

Tuesday 15 July 2014

The Lift (1983)


De Lift
Goin' Up

Genre cinema in the Netherlands is pretty much non-existent, and this probably has a great deal to do with the fact that the majority of indigenous production relies on government funding. The cultural unworthiness of the horror genre, which is still viewed by some as little more than the outpourings of underdeveloped and immature minds, is never likely to find a great deal of sympathy in a film culture dependent on state subsidies. Nevertheless there have been a few co-productions over the years, and a handful of horror projects categorised as Dutch have emerged to blink confusedly in the light of the international arena. The name Dick Maas is at the epicentre of this tiny cycle thanks to The Lift, Amsterdamned (1988 – an underrated and criminally under-seen film which is arguably the greatest Dutch horror film), The Shaft (2001 – a remake of The Lift starring Naomi Watts no less!), and Saint (2010). In recent years the Dutch director Tom Six has stolen the headlines with his execrable Human Centipede films, the first of which was deceptively amusing, but the sequel was little more than an exercise in gross repugnance, and was unsurprisingly an American production. Other noteworthy Dutch horror films worth investigating include The Johnsons (1992), Necrophobia (2005 – for fans of Nekromantik [1988], if there are any!), and Two Eyes Staring (2010).

Friday 11 July 2014

Blueblood (1973)

Country: UK-CANADA

1973 was a very busy and productive year for English actor Oliver Reed.  He began it in the Italian/French co-production Dirty Weekend, a crime/comedy directed by Dino Risi, which paired him up with Marcello Mastroianni.  He followed this with the historical drama Frenzy, an Italian/UK co-production exploring the class divides in pre-revolutionary Russia, in which he played Palizyn opposite Claudia Cardinale’s Anya. He continued his association with Italian cinema in his following film Revolver (US title Blood on the Streets) an excellent crime thriller directed by Sergio Sollima, which saw Reed and Fabio Testi make unlikely allies as they uncover a far reaching political conspiracy. Reed’s biggest success of 1973 was his following film, playing Athos in Richard Lester’s spirited and entertaining screen version of The Three Musketeers. Reed’s fifth and final screen credit of 1973 was in the obscure British film Blueblood, based on Alexander Thynne’s novel The Carry Cot. There are those who classify Blueblood as a horror film, but it is more of a class drama in the mould of the Pinter/Losey production The Servant (1962). The motivations of the respective butler’s in each film are pretty much the same, but their methodology differs. In Blueblood Tom, played with the hulking brutishness and barely suppressed rage that became Reed’s stock in trade, utilises witchcraft to secure his aims.

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Mark the Narc (1975)

Country: ITALY

Mark il poliziotto
Blood, Sweat and Fear
Mark of the Cop

The big three directors who inhabit the murky, tough, and violent world of the Italian ‘Euro-crime’ cycle are Fernando Di Leo, Umberto Lenzi, and Stelvio Massi. It seems that history has been the kindest to Di Leo, who has selected titles available in high definition and is generally regarded as an important filmmaker in the landscape of popular Italian cinema. Fairing slightly worse is Umberto Lenzi, and this is almost entirely due to his risible cannibal escapades rather than his solid, if unexceptional, entries in the ‘Euro-crime’ and ‘Giallo’ cycles. Due to the vagaries of distribution the filmography of Massi is the least explored of the three, and as a result Massi is not discussed anywhere near as prolifically as the other two men. Although all three filmmakers owe debts of gratitude to the Hollywood films that inspired them, perhaps Massi most of all showed his influences a little too freely. This can be seen most keenly in his 1975 thriller Mark the Narc which is one of the most rigorous pastiches of the first two films to feature Clint Eastwood as San Francisco detective Harry Callaghan. 

Wednesday 4 September 2013

The Stranger Within (1974) - TV Movie

Country: USA

Original Transmission Date - 01/10/1974

Whilst Richard Matheson is still chiefly known for his novel I am Legend (1954) and the ensuing film adaptations of it that followed in 1964, 1971, and 2007, and for his screenwriting work for cinema in the 1960s (highlights include House of Usher [1960], Night of the Eagle [1962], The Raven [1963] and The Devil Rides Out [1968] his work for American network television in the 1970’s remains as equally interesting, in spite of the relative lack of column inches it receives. This lack of attention may be due to the fact that a number of his teleplays were overshadowed by the men who directed and/or produced the movies. Duel (1971) for example is rarely discussed as a Richard Matheson film despite the fact that he wrote the teleplay and the short story it was based on. Film scholarship has chosen to make Steven Spielberg the main man. His teleplays The Night Stalker (1972), The Night Strangler (1973), Scream of the Wolf (1974), Dracula (1974), Trilogy of Terror (1975), and Dead of Night (1977) were all presided over by director/producer Dan Curtis. For some Curtis is an ‘auteur’, and the films previously mentioned are almost always discussed as part of his oeuvre rather than Matheson’s. In my opinion it is Matheson’s world view that informs these productions, and this state of affairs only goes to highlight an institutional and scholarly lack when it comes too appreciating the contribution of the screenwriter.

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