strange_complex: (Vampira)
Seen on Thursday night round at [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan's place after nourishing bowls of home-made minestrone soup... the healthy effects of which we then trashed by eating half a packed of chocolate-coated ginger biscuits each while watching the film.

I had never seen an Abbott and Costello film before, but [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan grew up on them, and indeed she reckons they were the first context in which she encountered the classic gothic horror icons. Despite the '... meet Frankenstein' of the title, this one doesn't actually feature Frankenstein himself, but rather his creation (played by Glenn Strange), whom they correctly refer to as 'Frankenstein's monster' at first, but later slip into calling 'Frankie'. But much more significantly as far as I'm concerned, it also features Bela Lugosi in the only time other than the original 1931 film that he explicitly played Dracula on screen. (BTW, [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan, the not-technically-Dracula Lugosi role which I keep trying to tell you about but forgetting the name of, where he played alongside a woman who was a huge fan of his, is Mark of the Vampire. We should definitely see that some time.)

Inevitably, in a comic context and 20 years later, Lugosi plays the role as a bit of a parody of himself. His cloak is too shiny and looks like he got it from a fancy dress shop, there's rather too much in the way of mesmeric finger movements, and we couldn't really understand why he needed to keep pulling his cloak up over his face so much. But, on the other hand, it is very definitely his Dracula, and the role also gave him lots of scope to pretend to be human and be all duplicitous while he was about it, which was fun to see. He gets a bit of that in the original 1931 film, conversing with people at the opera and in Dr. Seward's drawing-room, but there seemed to be more of it here, plus some rather more full-on neck-biting action than he ever got back in 1931.

Also on board are Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf-Man, and a lovely voice-cameo from Vincent Price at the end as the Invisible Man, so it is quite the monster-fest overall. Add to that some absolutely beautiful frocks on some strikingly self-possessed - nay, sassy - female characters, and some very impressive sets (castles, cellars, laboratories) and it is definitely worth watching. I don't know that I'll rush to see more Abbott and Costello films - it's not really my style of humour, and is difficult for a 21st-century British woman to relate very deeply to. But I'm certainly open to more of their Universal Monsters cross-over flicks, should they happen to cross my path.

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strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
Another little blast of these ahead of the new Sherlock at 8:30.

13. Jane Eyre (1943), dir. Robert Stevenson
Seen with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan at the National Media Museum in Bradford. It has fantastic sets, plenty of nice Gothic bleakness, some lovely frocks, and Orson Welles doing an excellent line in demonstrating exactly why Mr. Rochester is a complete and utter twat.

14. City of the Dead aka Horror Hotel (1960), dir. John Llewellyn Moxey
Also seen with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan, round at her place I believe. I've seen it before, and indeed own the DVD, but had not watched it for at least 10 years, probably a fair bit more. It features Christopher Lee and a folk-horrorish plot involving a small American town with a history of witch-craft that turns out to be not so very confined to the past as the young female protagonist might hope. In fact, now I come to think about it, there is a lot here in common with The Curse of the Crimson Altar, watched not long before this and reviewed here. For a while, it looks like it might be quite committed to female emancipation, as Nan Barlow (the main character) sets out on an original academic research project despite her boyfriend and brother advising against it, but of course she then dies as a result, so it is just good old-fashioned Stay In The Kitchen after all.

15. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), dir. Guy Hamilton
Watched because it was on TV and I needed distraction. I think I may still have been on bereavement leave at this point, or else technically out of it but still treating myself very gently as much as possible. Anyway, obviously again the main attraction was Christopher Lee and he delivers in very fine form in this one! Scaramanga's combination of malevolence, sexual potency, superficial charm and brute violence suit him very, very well indeed. It is a very episodic film, which could almost have worked nicely as a TV mini-series, with distinct events taking place on Scaramanga's island, in Beirut, Macau, Hong Kong, and Bangkok and finally back on the island again. I suppose most Bond stories are to some degree, but this more than most, I think.

16. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), dir. Peter Jackson
I started 2016 with the first of these films, and later followed up with the second, even though this time Christopher Lee is not featured. I enjoyed the elf-orc battle as Bilbo and his friends escaped in wine-barrels down the river, the icy goings-on in Laketown, and the confrontation between Bilbo and Smaug inside the latter's enormous treasure-trove. I have the final film on DVD from Lovefilm, but seem to be taking a while to get round to actually watching it.

17. Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016), dir. Mandie Fletcher
Seen with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan at the Cottage Road cinema. It was good fun and kept us entertained throughout, although I'm afraid I probably only recognised about half of the cameo roles which I was obviously supposed to recognise. Joanna Lumley's body-language as Patsy is just splendid, and she was definitely the highlight of the film for me.

18. Ghostbusters (2016), dir. Paul Feig
Also seen with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan (I think?), probably at the Cottage too. Splendid fun, and great to see both an all-female lead cast and lots of slashy potential between almost all of the main characters. The one thing I could have wished to make it better was that Erin Gilbert (the academic one played by Kristen Wiig) had been fully self-confident in her job at the beginning, and actually delivering a huge and important lecture to a crowded room, rather than practising for doing so, when she is approached by the guy with a copy of her unwittingly-published book about ghosts. That would have made her a full-on identification character for me, as well as giving her a much stronger character narrative for the movie - the woman who was not only a fully-functioning successful academic but also a believer in the paranormal. But no.

Here we get to films 19-23, which I already wrote up as part of my review of the Starburst Film Festival, which is frankly pretty good going. I still have an hour before Sherlock starts as well! Let's see how many more I can do...

24. Beat Girl (1960), dir. Edmond T. Gréville
Taped off the telly and watched chez moi for the usual reason - viz, it has Christopher Lee in it. I've seen it before, but years ago, and never reviewed it here. It's a youth culture film, but rather unsure about whether youth culture is something to be celebrated and glorified or indulged in moral panic over - primarily the latter, though. The main character, Jennifer, is resentful of her father's new not-much-older-than-her wife, and pruriently fascinated when she discovers the wife's past as a stripper. Soon, looking for teenage rebellious kicks, she begins flirting with the world of shady underground strip clubs herself - and Christopher Lee is the sleazy strip-club manager who is there to greet her when she does. It's not a particularly great film on the whole, and the teen characters' dialogue is seriously cringe-worthy, but I do love the music in the climactic scene when Jennifer strips at a house-party. No need to worry about what you might see if you click on that link, BTW - it's from the early '60s, so she doesn't get any further than a cast-iron bra and some knickers your gran would probably think were a bit frumpy.

25. Madhouse (1974), dir. Jim Clark
Seen with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan round at her place, this is an absolutely cracking Vincent Price film which I can hardly believe I hadn't seen before. As in Theatre of Death, he is basically playing himself ('Dr. Death', a type-cast film-star), to the extent that clips from his character's supposed past performances were taken from footage of the real Vincent Price performing in Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe films. Around the story of his declining stardom, a murder-mystery unfolds, featuring Peter Cushing, lots of lovely Seventies clothes, and even some charming Seventies children. Just marvellous, and I will gladly watch it again any time.

26. The Wicker Tree (2011), dir. Robin Hardy
This is the film version of Hardy's novel, Cowboys for Christ, which I read and reviewed some years ago. Having read the novel, I had very low expectations for the film, with the result that I actually quite enjoyed it. It is pretty straightforwardly the same story, but probably a better film than the novel is a book - unsurprisingly, really, since that was how Hardy always intended it, and the novel was only what he did to get the story out while attempting to secure backing for the film. Christopher Lee appears, but only fairly briefly in a flashback, and that's probably for the best. Not as awful as it could have been, but a very poor shadow indeed of The Wicker Man. It's unwise to even think of the two as being in any way connected, really.

OK, just six more reviews to do in order to get up to date now - on films at least! But I think that's enough for one evening. Time to tag, format and heat up the last portion of the Christmas pudding ready for tonight's televisual treat...

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strange_complex: (Lee as M.R. James)
These reviews are out of sequence, in the sense that I watched four other films before them which I haven't posted about on LJ yet. I have started writing about all four, and indeed started my write-up of Romania, too, but I am not doing a great job of actually completing LJ posts right now. So I am going to suspend sequentiality in favour of what I actually feel like writing and might manage to complete.

[livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and I already had a film-watching session lined up for this Sunday just past anyway, but in the wake of Christopher Lee's death we revised our programme in his honour. Since [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan is a huge Peter Cushing fan, and Lee and Cushing were such great friends, it seemed most appropriate somehow to use the occasion to watch two Lee / Cushing collaborations which neither of us had previously seen. So, I hastily acquired House of the Long Shadows and The Skull and we got stuck in.

14. House of the Long Shadows (1983), dir. Pete Walker )

15. The Skull (1965), dir. Freddie Francis )

This means that I have now seen 21 out of Lee and Cushing's 24 collaborations, and two of the remaining three are pretty spurious (Hamlet 1948 = controversy over whether Lee is actually visible on screen within the final film at all; The Devil's Agent 1961 = Cushing's scenes deleted). As for the experience of watching Lee's films now that he is no longer with us on this Earth - it feels bittersweet. On one level, his very gift was his films, and we still have those. But on another, it is sad to know for sure now that there won't be any more, that he himself can no longer be part of the discourse around the ones he made, and that one more living link with the creative output of the past is gone. It all feels a bit like someone turning up the lights at the end of a really amazing film, and having to face up to the fact that the story is over and the magic has gone. A slightly thinner, greyer world, in other words. I'm just glad he was in it for so long, and did so much while he was here.

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strange_complex: (Lord S not unenlightened)
Teal dear summary - both of these films are incoherent messes, and Christopher Lee isn't even in them terribly much, but the moments when he is on screen are excellent!

29. 1941 (1979), dir. Steven Spielberg )

30. Scream and Scream Again (1970), dir. Gordon Hessler )

If the world were a truly good and beautiful place, someone would by now have extracted all of the scenes with Christopher Lee in them from 1941, and all of the scenes with Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price in them from Scream and Scream Again and stuck the results on Youtube. However, as far as I can tell, they have not. We must suffer onwards in our imperfect and fragile existence.

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strange_complex: (Lee as M.R. James)
I've run out of Hammer Dracula films to re-watch, so am now exploring a category of films which can best be described as 'Other Gothic Horrors Starring Christopher Lee Which I Haven't Seen, And Which Ideally Feature Him Playing A Character As Similar To Dracula As Possible, And / Or Also Star Peter Cushing And / Or Vincent Price.' There are actually a quite considerable number of films which meet these criteria, even including the 'which I haven't seen' clause, and now is a good time in human history to be watching them.

See, last time I had a really big 'thing' on Christopher Lee, which was about ten years ago now, Lovefilm and Netflix did not exist, my local video shop had a limited range, I had a limited income so that although Amazon existed I could not simply buy anything I felt like from it, and many of the films I wanted to see were not available to purchase in any format anyway. Now, the range of availability is greater (though still nothing like comprehensive), and so are both my disposable income and the channels available to buy or hire through. So films which I have long read about in books but been unable to watch are actually available at long last via the click of a few buttons. Hooray for exponential steps forward in technology and communications!

Actually, I probably could have got hold of this particular film ten years ago - it would have been more a case of limited income stopping me than limited availability. But there are other films lined up on my Lovefilm list, or already in my possession, which I know I couldn't have done, because I tried at the time and was frustrated. More of those in later reviews.

For now, this one is an AIP film which borrows the title of an Edgar Allan Poe story, but discards the story itself in favour of a new one drawing on some of his classic tropes (e.g. burial alive, insanity, unavenged crimes from the past), and mashing them together with others such as body-snatching and deformed horrors in the attic. For AIP, it was a continuation of the Poe / Price films which Roger Corman did in the early '60s, but by this stage other directors were being used. In fact, this one was supposed to have been directed by Michael Reeves (of The Sorcerors and Witchfinder General fame), but he was unable to start it - not, as is often reported, due to his death, as filming had already been completed before that, but more due to the depression and substance abuse problems which shortly afterwards caused his death.

It features the coveted Price / Lee combination (actually it was the first time they worked together and the beginning of their friendship), and involves Christopher Lee playing Dr. Neuhartt, a rather sour Victorian medic who is keeping the local body-snatchers in business. Price, meanwhile, plays Lord Markham, a troubled colonialist aristocrat with plantations in Africa, a trusting and innocent fiancée, and a dread family secret in the attic. Alas, they barely interact on screen, appearing together only very briefly in a scene where Christopher Lee's character is already lying half-dead on the floor, having had his throat cut. But that is only one of many alases which affect this film.

Other flaws include:
  • The dialogue, much of which is banal or lacklustre.
  • The performances, most of which lack any real spark.
  • Vincent Price's performance in particular, which (I'm sorry Vincent) really does feel dialled in. I know his USP as an actor was to play characters who are troubled to the point of being largely divorced from humanity, but here he just seems kind of wooden, and there are scenes in which his character definitely should show more emotion than he does - as for example, when he discovers that his brother (the dread family secret in the attic) is (apparently) dead.
  • The conveyance of characters' motivations, which is often left completely obscure or revealed too late (with no particular advantage arising from the delay). The best example here is the lawyer, Trench, who takes extensive personal risks in order to help the brother in the attic, in spite of the fact that the only time he visits him there, the brother tries to strangle him. We learn some stuff about how he has been embezzling money from the family estate by forging documents, and he's also quite willing to accept 1000 guineas from Lord Markham to furnish a corpse to lie in state in the place of the brother. But this isn't an adequate explanation for why he takes the trouble to help the brother himself in the first place, especially because everything else he does gives the impression of an entirely selfish and cold-hearted man.
  • The fact that every character is either unlikeable or under-developed, so that there is no-one we can really cheer for or hope will escape all the blood-shed. Lord Markham's fiancée / wife (from part-way through the film) is the closest we get, but she is a pretty bland character, and never in any serious danger, so it doesn't really work.
  • The effects used to represent throat-cutting. I can forgive a lot where special effects are concerned for the sake of a good story, but this isn't a terribly good story anyway, and the cut throats are basically represented by a painted line of extremely unconvincing blood across the victim's neck. Since this happens several times during the story, they really could have done with putting more effort into making it look like an actual injury.

Meanwhile, on the plus side:
  • The sets are superb, from the inherited Markham family home to the London streets where some of the shadier events of the film take place.
  • So are the costumes - though sadly for Christopher Lee, not the wigs.
  • Some of the camerawork is brilliant, especially during the opening scenes of an African ritual punishment.
  • Lee's character, and his performance of it, are actually both pretty solid. Dr. Neuhartt's involvement in the body-snatching business makes him extremely vulnerable to blackmail, and he ends up embroiled in things he's clearly unhappy with as a result, so there is scope for a kind of suppressed frustration to the character, and Lee makes good use of it. This, of course, one of the reasons why he's worth 'following' as an actor - he's in a lot of great movies, but even in the second-rate ones you can rely on him to be one of the redeeming features.
  • Quite apart from Lee and Price, it furnishes plenty of material for a good game of Spot Your Favourite British Character Actors. I was particularly pleased to see Rupert Davies (best-known to me as the Monsignor in Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, but to others more likely as Maigret) and Colin Jeavons, whom I have loved dearly ever since his stint as Max Quordlepleen in the BBC's TV adaptation of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

But those aren't really enough pluses to significantly outweigh the minuses, especially while the handling of the female and black characters is distinctly of its time (shall we say?). The women, as usual, are all there to be sexual objects and / or victims for the men, and there is one extended tavern / brothel scene about half-way through in which several of the extras are getting up to some pretty rapey things, but it is treated primarily as titillation. As for race, there is an extent to which the film is attempting to offer a ham-fisted critique of British colonial involvement in Africa. Lord Markham himself recognises that the family estate there is exploitative; this is personalised when we learn that one of the Markham brothers knocked down and killed a local child on his horse; and what appeared to be a tropishly barbaric African religious ritual at the start of the film is later revealed to be an enactment of justice for the child's death. This was apparently enough to get the film banned in Texas for appearing to be 'pro-black'. But to 21st-century eyes, the portrayal is less than entirely radical. African local justice is still shown as both brutal and flawed (since they exact vengeance on the first Markham brother they can find without checking whether or not he was actually guilty), while the only black character who gets any serious screen-time or dialogue is an Ethnic Magician, who tells the white characters that he is versed in matters which they do not understand.

So, anyway. That's another film which I can tick off in both my personal filmic and televisual Horror bible and my list of every film Christopher Lee has ever made. But I won't be going out of my way to watch it again.

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strange_complex: (Vampira)
This weekend saw horror film fans from across the country gathering in Bradford for the 10th annual Fantastic Films Weekend. I didn't see quite as many fantastic films, or indeed little-known TV gems or enthralling interviews, as I'd originally planned, because I've been trying to be a little more sensible about not over-doing things since making myself ill that way in late April / early May. I realised that the important thing was to enjoy myself and feel relaxed and happy, rather than to approach the weekend as though it were a competition to see how many films I could possibly fit into the time available. So I missed the Friday altogether in favour of getting really on top of my work, and then took the Saturday and Sunday nice and easy, enjoying a good lie-in each morning and then just trundling over to Bradford for the things I really felt I couldn't miss. The result was that I only saw two actual films stricto sensu over the course of the weekend - but also two excellent interviews (one live, one recorded), and two rather unforgettable TV dramatisations.

8. Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971), dir. John D. Hancock )

Sinister Image (1988): Vincent Price in conversation with David Del Valle )

An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (1972), dir. Kenneth Johnson )

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strange_complex: (Vampira)
I'm rolling two reviews into one here, because they are both for classic films which I saw with my fellow aficionado, [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan, as well as [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy and (in the latter case) [livejournal.com profile] big_daz

28. House on Haunted Hill (1959), dir. William Castle

I saw the abysmal 1999 remake of this in the cinema with [livejournal.com profile] mr_flay when it came out, and we both agreed that it had stolen precious hours from our lives. But it took me until this October to get round to seeing the original properly, during a film afternoon at [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan's. Needless to say, it was ten thousand zillion times better! Vincent Price is fantastic, the plot kept us guessing, and we also rather liked the somewhat Art Deco-ish appearance of the exterior of the house (strangely at odds with the Victorian gothic interior, but there you go). Like all the best ghost stories (and unlike the remake), it remains ambiguous for most of the film whether there is actually anything supernatural in the house at all, or just a bunch of scared and / or villainous human beings. If you've not seen it, I'll leave the pleasure of finding out how it all resolves to you!

29. The Ladykillers (1955), dir. Alexander Mackendrick

This one we saw at the Cottage Road cinema, complete with the usual vintage adverts, national anthem, ice-cream tray in the intermission and so forth. It's another Ealing comedy: the second which the Cottage Road has shown this year, after The Lavender Hill Mob. And it's one I've seen a couple of times, as my parents have a copy on video and it's quite a favourite of theirs. Obviously not for some years, though, as I'd forgotten it was in colour, and while I knew how it ended, I couldn't really remember how it got there.

It's just lovely in every way. I can never quite decide which member of Alec Guinness's criminal gang I secretly want to be the one to get away with all the money - although I think it's probably Guinness himself in the end. And of course it's so much the better when it actually turns out to be spoiler-cut, because even though this film is over half a century old, knowing the ending in advance will actually still significantly reduce the pleasure if you've not seen it before ).

Mrs Wilberforce's story has an edge of sadness and genuine social commentary to it, too, which lends a lovely bittersweet tone to the comedy. Widowed and living a dignified but obviously rather impoverished and lonely life in a bomb-damaged house, she must have been all too common a figure at the time when the film was made. But although she is shown as fussy, foolish and forgetful, she is also portrayed with an incredible strength of personality that seemed to me to convey a profound respect for women of this kind - the ones who had weathered two world wars, and ended up in a strange and alien new world with precious little to show for their sacrifices. Her independence of spirit and ability to cow a bunch of hardened (if incompetent) criminals into behaving like gentlemen when she tells them to actually has quite a feminist edge to it, and the way her story ends up is a kind of wish-fulfilment - a statement of what ladies like her truly deserve. Anyway, she is very definitely the real star of the film, and it's no wonder everyone loves her.

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strange_complex: (Vampira)
I saw this early yesterday evening at the Hyde Park Picture House with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy, to the accompaniment of a 'live re-score' by a Sheffield outfit named Animat. It stars Vincent Price, and is the earliest adaptation of Richard Matheson's 1954 book, I Am Legend. Later versions of this book are generally better-known: The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston and I Am Legend (2007) with Will Smith. But all of them tell the same basic story of the last man left alive (here Vincent Price's character) after the rest of human-kind have either been killed or turned into vampires by a deadly plague.

I'm afraid the general consensus was that the film was great, but that we would have preferred to see it with the original music. The sound-balance wasn't very carefully handled, meaning that the music was slightly too loud for the film the whole way through, and frequently drowned out bits of dialogue. And although it was funny and post-modern for five minutes to hear tracks like Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' while the vampires were attacking Vincent Price's house, complete with his own spooky voice-over, on the whole the joke wore thin pretty quickly. We agreed afterwards that we'd have preferred to hear the original gramophone records which he listens to during that sequence (in order to drown out the voices of the vampires calling him by name), as they probably added a lovely period atmosphere to the film which we didn't get to experience.

I'd also hoped to come away from the film with some idea of how one inserts new music into a film which already had its own original music, but without removing the dialogue. It's obviously easy to do for films from the '20s which didn't have any soundtrack in the first place, but I thought that most films with soundtracks were released with the dialogue and the music inextricably mixed together as part of the same recording, so I don't really understand how you can strip the music out while still keeping the voices. Anyway, I'm afraid I am still none the wiser on that front. All I can tell you is that the film was played from a DVD (I know, 'cos we saw the title menu at the beginning and end), and all the music we heard came from these two chaps sitting off to one side with laptops and a keyboard. Maybe this particular DVD somehow has the option of turning off the music? I don't know.

Anyway, music aside, Vincent Price was everything you would expect, and I can certainly see how the film had an influence on later zombie films like those of George A. Romero. In fact, having recently seen 28 Days Later, I could see quite a few shared topoi - e.g. general scenes of Price's character moving about in deserted urban spaces; a scene of him going into a supermarket and pushing trolleys aside to get in; and a church sign reading 'The End Has Come', which reminded me of the words 'The End Is Extremely Fucking Nigh' daubed on the wall of the church in 28 Days Later. It follows the book reasonably faithfully, but also establishes a legacy for Charlton Heston's The Omega Man in the ways that it deviates from the novel. Two things which they certainly share are a) the main character getting hunted down and killed in a rather Christ-like fashion, rather than imprisoned and committing suicide and b) the possibility of a happy ending of sorts, in that although the main character is dead, he has already passed on a proper cure for the disease to others before this happens. I haven't seen the Will Smith version, so can't comment on what happens there.

The film is set in America, and nearly convinced as such, but a scene set on the steps of the Colosseo Quadrato gave away the real location in Italy. I wished I'd known that when I went in, in fact, so that I could have looked out for other iconic buildings from around Rome, but I only realised while I was watching (and confirmed it afterwards from t'internet). Now that I've seen the film, I can also report that the Gothic mansion depicted on the publicity poster for it is rather misleading, since no such building features at any point during the film. It's far from the only movie poster from this era to feature generic images which have nothing much to do with the film, of course, but it's interesting to see in this case what particular image was chosen. It seems pretty clear to me that the poster was trying to evoke the Roger Corman-style Gothic horror numbers that Price was most famous for in order to get bums on seats. It suggests that contemporary audiences were being assumed to have pretty conservative tastes, given that in fact the whole point about Matheson's story was that it broke away from the Gothic legacy, and tried to update vampire mythology by making it more modern and scientific.

Anyway, a lovely evening out - but as I say, we came away resolved to get the DVD and see it in its original format for ourselves. Live re-scoring may be good for silent films, but it would have to be absolutely brilliant to make it worthwhile for films which already have their own original soundtrack - and this really wasn't.

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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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