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.

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