Friday, 4 June 2010

strange_complex: (Wicker Man sunset)
So, as mentioned in my last post, I spent the earlier part of the evening at the opening instalment of the Bradford Fantastic Films Weekend. I bumped into matgb in the station, and then caught up with miss_s_b in the Media Museum bar, looking all Tank Girl-ish with a blond slanty fringe and bicycle-induced bruises, and accompanied by [livejournal.com profile] innerbrat! From the internet! Who scored exactly the same as me on today's Daily Mail poshness test, but nonetheless turned out to have a much posher accent than I have been reading her journal with for the past however-many-years-it-even-is now.

Anyway, we also saw a film! Which was excellent. It wasn't my first time for this one - not even on the big screen, actually, thanks to the Phoenix's late showings back when I used to live in Oxford. But it's probably something like eight to ten years since I saw it now, so it was lovely to have the chance to rediscover it.

The festival director introduced the screening, talking about what a horror classic this film is, and what a loss that Michael Reeves died the following year from a(n accidental?) drug overdose. And he was right - it was definitely a cut above what most horror directors were doing in the late '60s; especially the camera-work. This is obvious from the opening sequence, which appears to present a rural idyll, but gradually homes in on a regular banging sound which turns out to be the noise of someone putting the finishing touches to a hangman's gibbet - a disturbing contrast which really sets the mood for what follows. Throughout the film we get lots of interesting angles and imaginatively-composed shots, although it was a pity they'd felt the need to rely quite so heavily on day-for-night filming. When you've got a character delivering the line, "It must be important, for you to wait for him after dark", the effect is rather compromised if he's doing it in silhouette against a bright blue summer sky, dappled with altocumulus...

Some parts of the script are a bit clunky, especially when people are delivering historical exposition or characters are being established. But that's by no means out of the ordinary for horror scripts of this time. The brutality, though, definitely was out of the ordinary. It wasn't quite as unrelenting as I'd remembered, and was occasionally rather undermined by the use of bad fake waxy blood. But the bleakness of the ending in particular marks it out as quite different from what e.g. Hammer were doing in this period. On the face of it, the good guys have won. But rather than getting your standard-issue uplifting music and romantic embrace, we instead see both the hero and the heroine reduced to a state of near-insanity by the experiences they have been through, and the hero's friends looking on in horror and disgust. That must have been quite a shock to the original audience, and it certainly does suggest that Michael Reeves was gearing up to be a challenging director with some new ideas about how horror should be done.

Meanwhile, of course, we also get the WONDER that is Vincent Price. According to the pre-show talk, Michael Reeves actually wanted Donald Pleasence in the title role - and fair dos to him, because Pleasence would have been awesome too. Stuck with Vincent Price at the insistence of the studio, he basically made it perfectly clear to him that he wasn't the star he wanted, and insisted on Price toning down the greater excesses of his campness - despite the fact that Reeves was less than half Price's age, and this was only his fourth film. Price was so shocked at being spoken to like this that he actually did what Reeves said, and the result is that he oozes with menace and presence throughout, without ever turning into a cartoon villain. Wikipedia tells me that he later considered it one of the best performances of his career, and he may well be right.

PLUS we get Ian Ogilvy, dear to me in particular as Drusus in I Clavdivs, but also from many a happy Sunday morning watching Upstairs, Downstairs over my breakfast. And there are lots of thundering horses and frightened sheep and billowing cloaks and heaving bosoms and suggestively-placed pistols - not to mention the fascinatingly-precise and symmetrical curls of Matthew Hopkins' wig, which I can never quite tear my eyes away from. All in all, a damned fine start to the weekend.

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