Saturday, 31 May 2008


Do you feel 78 ?......well, do you punk?

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

STONE (1973)

A failure on its initial release, the film has developed a cult status over the years, although I'm damned if I can see why. It opens quite nicely with a sequence where a guy revs up his bike, rides off and a few moments later is beheaded by a wire stretched across the road. There is a big impressive funeral with a motorbike hearse and the burial itself is quite cute with the body being lowered down a manhole in the middle of the cemetery. After that, though, the bikes don't even need engines c'os it's down hill all the way. Any tolerance that one might be prepared to give the movie flies out the window the moment our eponymous hero, played by Ken Shorter, appears. Where did they find this guy??? He is obviously having a bad hair day and looks ready to burst into tears at any moment, this being the only expression he can manage. Ken went on to have a totally undistinguished career in Australia and later an even less distinguished on in England where he can still be seen on rare occasions playing small roles in such drama shows as HOLBY CITY. The whole thing seems to have been a vanity project for director Sandy Harbutt (his wife Helen Morse appears in the film and Harbutt himself plays Undertaker, the gang leader) as according to IMDB he has done zilch since - which is understandable. The trouble with this whole genre is that the characters never seem to be able to string words together to make coherent sentences which tends to make them a bit on the uninteresting side and as far the posturing weirdness...well if you haven't got the budget to get Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern - forget it. Go watch Brando and Marvin in THE WILD ONE. Rating *


1934 - 2008




Our birthday tribute to Christopher Lee appears on our companion blog Fleapit Annex (link on sidebar).

Monday, 26 May 2008


Yes, I know it's not his birthday until tomorrow but the party will go on all night at the House of Seven Gables!
Vincent Price is one of my top half dozen favourite actors of all time - but of that top five he occupies a very special place. Of my favourites he is the only one I have actually met. More, because to a degree I got to know him. I have dined with him, visited his dressing room at The Queens Theatre in London and even been on a car journey with him. I was lucky enough to see Vincent on stage in a production of ARDELE and at his John Player Lecture at the National Film Theatre. I first met Vincent through my friend, the late Michael Reeves, who directed him in WITCHFINDER GENERAL and was later lucky enough to visit the sets or locations for THE OBLONG BOX, THE ABOMINABLE DR.PHIBES, THEATRE OF BLOOD, MADHOUSE, SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN and CRY OF THE BANSHEE. I don't think I've heard anybody say a bad word about Vincent....probably because there isn't one to say. He was a very funny man to be with, a gracious host and a great actor. I feel privileged to have known him, even for what was a relatively, short period, but it was one of the great thrills of my life. Happy Birthday, Vincent!

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Need I say more ?

Thursday, 22 May 2008


Here is what will, hopefully, be a real treat for you - an entire movie (albeit a short one) directed by my friend Maxim Ford while studying at the Polish Film School many years ago. It is based on the short story, EMMA ZUNZ, by the great Argentinian writer Jose Luis Borges and although there are several other versions of the story on You Tube, this is by far the best. Enjoy!

Sunday, 18 May 2008


Robert Siodmak has special place in my heart : he was the first director to scare the shit out of me. The scene was the Empire Cinema in Holloway, North London, and my mother had taken me to see Siodmak's THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE. I'm not sure how old I was but I was probably about five. I didn't really understand the film and was quite bored and then suddenly the screen was filled with the image of the killer's eye. This absolutely terrified me and I watched the rest of the movies through laced fingers, praying that this horror would all end soon...but I still had to get through the films climax which was one of the most frightening memories of my childhood. For years I joked with my mother that keeping me in that cinema was tantamount to child abuse! Robert Siodmak was born in 1900 in Dresden of Polish parents and cut his cinematic teeth in Germany along with his friend Max Castle. He later worked in France before arriving in Hollywood in 1939 where he secured a contract with Universal. His first film of note was the 1943 SON OF DRACULA - an extremely atmospheric entry in the Universal horror series. This was followed by THE PHANTOM LADY which was the first of a remarkable series of film noir that he would make over the next few years : THE KILLERS, DARK MIRROR, CRY OF THE CITY, CRISS CROSS, THE FILE ON THELMA JORDAN, CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY, UNCLE HARRY and DEPORTED. Add to these the high camp Maria Montez extravaganza COBRA WOMAN, and the psychological suspense of THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE and we have one of the most interesting Hollywood directors of the Forties. Siodmak's remaining career is less interesting. He left Hollywood and returned to Europe where he made THE CRIMSON PIRATE and an interesting English noir starring Nadja Tiller called THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH (I saw this on television during the Sixties and remember it as being rather good) before going home to Germany. His films after then seem to be of little interest. He died in 1973. CRY OF THE CITY is an very good film noir starring Victor Mature and Richard Conte as childhood friends who have grown up on different sides of the law. Mature, who, plays the cop is the nominal star, fresh from his success in KISS OF DEATH, but it is Conte who really carries the film as the convicted killer on the run. Supporting cast is excellent with Shelley Winters outstanding as the girl who tries to help Conte (several missing scenes featuring Winters have been restored for British Film Institute DVD release), Fred Clark playing it straight as Mature's sidekick and Debra Paget in her film debut. A special mention must be made of the wonderful Hope Emerson as the sinister masseuse - which almost equals her classic portrayal of the sadistic prison wardress in John Cromwell's CAGED. Rating ***

Saturday, 17 May 2008



From teenage rebel to hippy to psycho

Friday, 16 May 2008


Henry Fonda 1905 - 1982

Just a quick note to mark Henry Fonda's birthday. It's hard to know where to begin with Hank. I'm not concerned that in real life he was, so we are told, an uptight son-of-a-bitch who screwed up his wives and kids because in reel life he was the epitomy of upright honesty, integrity and an all round good joe (until Sergio taught him how to shoot kids) who lent his talents to so many classic films. He was Tom Joad in THE GRAPES OF WRATH, the martinet colonel in FORT APACHE, Wyatt Earp in MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, Honest Abe in YOUNG MR.LINCOLN, the eponymous MR.ROBERTS, the newly wed frontiersman in DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK etc - and that was just for John Ford! Don't know about across the pond but over here in the old country there are a lot of film fans who think that ol'Hank should have been President - he certainly had better cinematic qualifications than Ronald Reagan. Hank played presidents (FAIL SAFE), future presidents (YOUNG MR.LINCOLN), presidential candidates (THE BEST MAN) and even sons of presidents (THE LONGEST DAY). The illustration shows one of his greatest roles : the juror in the classic

Saturday, 10 May 2008

LA CASA DALLE FINESTRE CHE RIDONO/The House with Laughing Windows (1976)

This is a strange one. I came across on a website devoted to Italian movies. I was intrigued that the reviewer seemed to be reviewing it as an "art" movie rather than a lesser known "giallo". This does not mean that I don't believe that an Italian horror film could aspire to be art, far from it. But one rarely sees them reviewed as such. My second surprise was that although the film was made in 1976 I had never heard of it before. It turns out to be a very strange film. A picture restorer travels to a remote island off the coast of Italy to examine, restore and, perhaps, move a fresco depiting the martyrdom of St.Sebastian from a church. The painting is the work of a mad artist who was believed to have painted scenes of death and torture from life. Soon after he arrives a friend dies a violent death, his lover - the local teacher - suddenly disappears and he is warned by a mysterious phone call to leave the picture alone. He begins to investigate the life of the artist and slowly begins to uncover a story stranger and more terrible than imagined. The film opens with a bloody ritual murder taking place behind the credits which makes one expect that what will follow will be strong stuff indeed. But as the film opens it seemingly forgets totally that it is a giallo and proceeds to build its mood of place and mounting dread very convincingly. Director Pupi Avati refuses to be rushed into delivering a horror film ala Bava or Argento. In some ways it resembles a Bava film but perhaps one directed by Anonioni or Rossellini - although in terms of achievement I wouldn't want to compare Pupi with those masters. The main body of the film is a slowly unravelling mystery, sinister but nothing as shocking as the disturbing scenes behind the opening credits. It is only as the film reaches its climax that Pupi allows the violence to break out again. His restraint certainly pays off, making THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS a memorable film. I liked it very much and I look forward to tracking down some of his other films such as BLOOD RELATIONS (70), REVENGE OF THE DEAD (83) and ARCANE SORCERER although they seem to have been only a small part of his total output. Rating ***

Friday, 9 May 2008

LA MARIEE ETAIT EN NOIR/The Bride Wore Black (1967)

As a woman leaves the church with her husband after their wedding a shot rings out and the husband falls dead, shot through the heart. One by one the bride tracks down the men responsible for her spouse's death. Yes, this is the film in which we find the seed of what would eventually become Quentin Tarantino's KILL BILL. Truffaut's film is one of at least three films he made from novels by one of his favourite writers, Cornell Woolrich(aka: William Irish). Of the French nouvelle vague directors, Truffaut was, perhaps the most conventional in terms of technique, sharing with Claude Chabrol an obsessive admiration for the works of Alfred Hitchcock. THE BRIDE WORE BLACK resembles Hitchcock but a Hitchcock stripped down to the bare essentials. Visually it is cool 1960's with vibrant colours and all the trappings of the pop culture of the period in terms of clothes,art, hairstyles etc. Jeanne Moreau glides through the film in a series of striking outfits as she pursues her prey, dispatching each of them in offbeat ways (not quite Dr.Phibes but getting there...) and with each killing we see a little more of the events that prompted her vendetta. Moreau was one of the great French stars of the period and although not as conventionally attractive as, say, Bardot, she could more than hold her own as one of the screen's most fascinating women and as a major acting talent. Truffaut knows exactly how to exploit her special qualities as his murderous "bride." The evocation of Hitchcock is further enhanced by an excellent Bernard Herrmann score. Rating ****

Tuesday, 6 May 2008



Monday, 5 May 2008


I really enjoyed this much more than I expected. I always tend to under value Sly Stallone before I see his films. True, he's been in an awul lot of crap but whatever the critics have thrown at him Sly just bounces back. Every time they write off his career you can almost hear him shouting "It ain't over till it's over!" Recently I picked up the first three Rambo movies in a boxed set and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watching them again. The first one has a little depth but the second and third are pure comic strip popcorn for the eyes and if, like me, you are politically incorrect enough not to care about the body count then there is a lot of fun to be had. ROCKY BALBOA is a sweet movie with a real heart to it. It is well written, very well acted - particularly by Sly - and very nicely directed. If you like boxing movies (I'm not really a boxing fan but I love a good boxing movie) it's very exciting. So what's not to like? It's no masterpiece but its solid entertainment and a lot better than most of the CGI fuelled dross that passes for movies these days. Rating ***


Writing about WINTER LIGHT set me off thinking about Bergman in general and one aspect of his work in particular : his ability to shock. This works in many ways. On one of the Imdb noticeboards for Bergman's THE RITE somebody posted that they felt embarrassed and actually blushed at the scene where one character describes how he brought a woman to orgasm. But it is Bergman's ability as a filmmaker to physically make one jump in the same way that a horror film might. Ingmar Bergman is on record as saying that he grew up watching Universal Horror films and even a very basic knowledge of his movies proves that the imagery of these films has influenced him. Bergman has often shown an interest in the supernatural in such films as THE SEVENTH SEAL and THE DEVIL'S EYE and suggestions of the supernatural in many other films. THE MAGICIAN is not a true horror film (although if features a classic scare sequence) but it uses much of the traditional imagery of the Gothic tale. Just look at the opening sequence of this film with its coach travelling through a wood, the sinister figure of Vogler (Max Von Sydow) - it could easily be the opening of a very up market vampire movie. HOUR OF THE WOLF begins with Liv Ullman talking directly into the camera about the disappearance of her artist husband and almost without changing the dialogue this could almost be the prologue to a story by H.P.Lovecraft! (am I alone in thinking that the young Von Sydow would have been the ideal actor to play Lovecraft ?) In flashback we see her husband's mental deterioration as he is beset by the demonic/ghostly residents of the nearby castle(one of whom bears a remarkable resemblance to Bela Lugosi - which I'm sure is not accidental), eventually being drawn into their company as surely as Jack Torrance became a resident of the Overlook Hotel. Two of Bergman's greatest films feature sequences that come close to being honest to goodness depictions of some sort of vampirism. In the extraordinary PERSONA one of the characters dreams (or does she?) that another character visits her bedroom at night. What adds to the mystery of the scene is that Bergman shoots the scene in a way that wouldn't be out of place in a film version of LeFanu's CARMILLA and it is hard not to believe that in this film and the others mentioned above that he isn't deliberately invoking the classic horror film. In CRIES AND WHISPERS the vampiric dream sequence (although we are never quite sure that it is a dream) is far more explicit. A dead person returns to life and embraces the living and blood is drawn. It is a powerful and genuinely unsettling sequence like all Bergman's nightmares and these moments in his films are, for my money, worth all George Romero and Wes Craven's films rolled into one. My final offering is the night fright that awakens Ingrid Bergman in AUTUMN SONATA (and is followed by a real spiritual horror between Ingrid and Liv Ullman). If you don't jump at this you are probably already dead.

Saturday, 3 May 2008


I saw my first Ingmar Bergman films in the early Sixties. My first was, not unsurprisingly, THE SEVENTH SEAL. I followed this with THE MAGICIAN and THE SILENCE and some years later HOUR OF THE WOLF. Over the last three or four years I've been catching up with a lot of the Bergman films I missed first time around. I rate Bergman right up among my favourite four or five directors, his films reach parts of me that other films don't reach. When I finally caught up with THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY I began to feel distinctly uncomfortable as the film progressed and I was unsure why. Eventually I had to turn the film off. It was a rental disc and had to be returned but I immediately purchased a copy. It sits on my shelf still in its shrink wrap. I figured out why I couldn't watch it : the film dealt with a painful reality of my own life. I trust Bergman enough to know that the film will be meaningful to me -but now is not the time for me to watch it. WINTER LIGHT also falls into the category of very personal films. It is very much a chamber piece - set mainly in two churches in a remote snowbound area of Sweden. The film deals with Pastor Tomas (played brilliantly by Gunnar Bjornstrand) who is going through a crisis of faith. He feels ineffectual both in his calling and his personal life and strives to understand "the silence of God" in the face of the world's pain and his own private hell. The film is not, for me, an easy watch as I identify with Pastor Tomas although I feel that by the end of the film we have both come to the same conclusion. If you visit the discussion boards at Imdb you will see that it is the end of this film that really intrigues people and there seem to be two opinions - the first is that Tomas has completely lost his faith (the final nail being driven in by the crippled churchwarden who may or may not be Satan) or that it has been renewed as he begins again the familiar words of the Mass. My own view is somewhere between and although he still does not have an answer he is keeping the lines of communication open. I have stood both sides of the altar during Mass and know its power to communicate (the translation of the original title is THE COMMUNICANTS). This is very much a "religious" film and as such it is a hundred times more powerful than any Hollywood Biblical epic and, of course, like most great religious films it is made by an atheist. Christian directors for the most part seem hampered by the need for apologetics and a restraining sense of reverence. This film is, along with PERSONA, my favourite Bergman. He holds up a mirror to our deepest self and what we see in that mirror (Through a glass darkly) may not always be what we want to see, maybe disturbing and painful, but it is the truth. Rating *****