Saturday, 30 June 2012


The great thing about Ken Russell's FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER is that in the future when anybody prompts me to answer the killer question "What is the worst film you have ever seen" I will now be able to answer Ken Russell's FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER without hesitation.  It is, to put it is Biblical terms, an abomination. Not only is it an insult to Edgar Allan Poe it is far worse, it is Ken Russell pissing on his own talent. As I said in my piece when Ken passed away I was never an uncritical admirer of his cinema films, preferring his BBC work, but he had is moments. His increasingly silly films began to irritate me although I have a soft spot for LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM which works in a strange way all of its own. The film under discussion has little to do with the Poe story that inspires the pun of the title and seems to me to be the product of a sadly deranged mind - and I mean that quite seriously. Ken appears as mad Dr.Calahari (oh, yawn) and looks like he is a victim of the Red Death, although I was unsure if this was another reference to Poe or whether Ken was  suffering from some terrible skin affliction. Rating : 0

Friday, 29 June 2012


I'm pretty forgiving when it comes to silly horror movies (see previous reviews). Sometimes the plot flaws and the general incompetence are part of the fun. When a lot of money is spent on a movie and things are sloppy it is a different game altogether. I was recently enjoying THE AWAKENING which is a pretty intelligent (for the most part) haunted house film.....then as the film builds to its climax it throws a surprise twist into the plot. Nothing wrong with that except that the trick that the scriptwriters have been playing on the audience turns out to be the same trick used by another very famous ghost film. After that we are hit with a plot contrivance that is so far fetched and unlikely that the film lost credibility for me. I still like THE AWAKENING fo r its atmosphere, performances, photography etc. get my gripe.  DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is a remake of a dumb but enjoyable 1970's made-for-tv movie with Kim Darby.  People acted pretty stupidly in that movie. In the remake they take stupidity to a new level and the plot, which in its basics is an improvement on the original, has plot holes you could drive a bus through. It is technically very well made, looks great, has some terrifically nasty "fairies" and perfectly adequate performances....but, oh dear, the script!  Not written by hacks either as Guillermo del Torro and Matthew Robbins are the culprits.  A shame because this could have been a classic but instead it is just another very enjoyable dumb horror film....see I am forgiving. Director Troy Nixey may do something much better.  Guillermo del Torro is a worry. I've sort of liked all his films so far without becoming a fanboy.  I enjoyed the HELLBOY movies on a comic book level but his Spanish horror films (as both producer and director) while remaining a cut above the recent Hollywood fodder have all seemed to me to have two stories. I can see the point that they are trying to make - relating horror to war etc and applaud the attempt but for me the films remain a bit schizo as I don't think the stories gel together. He does, however, remain one of the more interesting genre artists around - especially now I've almost given up given up on Tim Burton. Rating ***

Tuesday, 29 May 2012


No, still not the recent Johnny Depp film but the 1990 revival of Dan Curtis's earlier daytime supernatural soap.  I didn't expect a lot but was very pleasantly surprised. No masterpiece but a great improvement on the original in every way: better acted, better sets,  better technical credits and, thankfully, some real vampire action. Ben Cross seems a bit stiff to start with but soon makes a good Barnabas Collins.  The other standout elements for me were Jim Fyfe as Willie (a vast improvement on John Karlen) and, of course, the wonderful Barbara Steele who I'd happily share a pizza with. They stand out in a more than competent cast which also includes Jean Simmons and Roy Thinnes.  Rating ***


CHI O SUU BARA/ Evil of Dracula (1974)

EVIL OF DRACULA is the third part of Michio Yamamoto's vampire trilogy and while not being up there with the classics of the genre it is at least comparable in quality with the second rank of Hammer films. It does, indeed, ape the Hammer style with only occasionally nods towards traditional Japanese horror films. Shin Kishida repeats his vampire from the earlier films (neither of which I've yet seen) and Toshiro Kurosawa is likable as the young teacher who arrives at a secluded girl's boarding school (vampires seem to love those places) and discovers more going on than net ball matches.  To be honest I rather enjoyed it as a curiousity and look forward to seeing its predecessors. Rating ***

Sunday, 20 May 2012


This is the original television series that inspired the latest episode of the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton mutual admiration club. I've not seen the Burton film yet but I was pleased to finally catch up with the first incarnation of the television series which, until now, has remained unseen in England. The three disc DVD is nicely packaged and contains a 17 minute "highlights" of the series before picking up the story at the first appearance of Jonathan Frid as vampire Barnabas Collins whose adventures we get to follow for ten episodes. But, be warned, there is very heir little in the way of vampirism on show here and all the episodes are black and white. My first reaction was that the whole ting was pretty slow and boring but by disk two I was getting into the spirit. One has to remember that this was a daytime soap with only 22 minutes to play with each day and if you enjoy actors fluffing their lines, missing their marks, cardboard sets, collapsing props then it is quite fun. Its a bit like CROSSROADS with vampires. I've just ordered the 1990 reworking with Ben Cross as Barnabas (well, it does have Barbara Steele in it) and I'd probably buy more episodes of the original....if they were cheap enough. Rating **

HUGO (2011)

I may see another film better than Martin Scorsese's HUGO this year but I doubt if I'll see one I like as much.Reviews of the film seem to be divided between those who find it boring and those who, like me, are enchanted by it.  Having read many reviews by the dislikers it was noticeable that many simply had no idea who Georges Melies was.  It is Melies, rather than the boy Hugo, who is at the heart of this movie. Because of this, under Scorsese's direction, the film becomes a tribute to the great French movie pioneer and innovator and both in subject and,  in the technical aspects of the film itself, a hymn to the wonder and magic of movies.  Performances, even in minor roles are superb with Ben Kingsley a more than convincing Melies and Sacha Baron Cohen turning in a wonderful comedy performace as the Station Inspector. Richard Griffiths, Frances De La Tour, Ray Winston, Jude Law and Christopher Lee add to a cast of characters who could have stepped from the pages of Dickens. Special praise must be saved for the younger members of the cast who, under Scorsese's direction, avoid the mawkish sentiment that could have sunk the film so quickly: Asa Butterfield is excellent as Hugo and Chloe Grace Moretz effortlessly claws her way up the ladder to true stardom with another performance that shows her as one of the most versatile young actresses around. Rating *****

Sunday, 22 April 2012


I don't buy many film books these days but here's one I did and if you are lucky and living in England (sorry, Cerpts) you might just pick it up for a pittance in your local Pound Shop. It was the title thatr intrigued me : TEN BAD DATES WITH DE NIRO. Edited by Richard T. Kelly and published in 2007 by Faber and Faber, it is yet another book of Film Lists chosen by a mixture of critics and film luminaries. The roll call includes Anne Bilson, Geoff Andrew, Ian Christie, Ethan and Joel Coen, Mike Cousins, Mike Figgis, Steven Soderburgh, and many more. Where the book scores is in its choice of lists. How can you resist categories like Ten Movie Nightclubs I wish were real, Ten Great Films I've never seen, Ten Awful wigs an actor dared to wear, Ten gratuitous uses of sex and nudity by Paul Verhoeven, Ten gratuitous machine gun frenzies and my particular favourite, The mighty apoplexies of Pacino - Ten scenes where "shouty" Al shows up. Another reason why this book stands out is that they are not bare lists of titles - every entry gets its own explanation and justification. Its the sort of book you can dip into frequently and come out smiling each time, although I admit I read its 460 pages in one long sitting and laughed out loud.

Friday, 23 March 2012


I've always had affection for Curtis Harrington without ever really regarding myself as a fan. He was a product of the so-called American Avante Garde along with his friend Kenneth Anger. Most of the films that fall into this category , particularly Anger's, today look like nothing more than very amatuerish home movies. Harrington at least made it into the real/reel world with a series of interesting if unremarkable horror movies, along the way working as an assistant to Jerry Wald and directing episodes of everything from BARETTA to CHARLIE'S ANGELS and DYNASTY. I once wrote a short article pointing out that his films show the influences of directors such as Clouzot, Hitchcock, Sternberg etc as well as knowingly doing such enjoyable trifles as THE DEAD DON'T DIE and THE CAT CREATURE - the mere titles of which invoke such names as Bela Lugosi and Val Lewton. But I still think it is near impossible to discern the personality of Harrington himself. Harrington began and ended his career with versions of his favourite Edgar Allan Poe story, The Fall of the House of Usher and it is perhaps in his final film, simply entitled USHER, with Harrington playing both the hapless siblings, that we might get a glimpse of the man himself. THE HOUSE OF HARRINGTON is a useful short which comprises of an interview with Harrington himself commenting on his main films and clips from the films themselves. Curtis comes over as a nice guy, obsessed by horror films. Rating ***

Monday, 5 March 2012

NACKT UNTER WOLFEN/Naked Among Wolves (1963)

How true this film is I am unsure. Did communist prisoners in Buchenwald concentration camp rise up and liberate the camp? My communist friend who screened this film for me says yes. According to another source it was Canadian prisoners and yet another says it was the advancing American army. Not that this spoils the film anymore than the way THE GREAT ESCAPE plays fast and loose with the actual facts. Beyond this question NAKED AMONG WOLVES seems to me to be a near perfect film that works on several levels. The core of the movie is that as the American army advanced towards Buchenwald the prisoners secreted a child in the camp, protecting him from the SS. The depiction of the camp is realistic and convincing and the treatment of the prisoners is horrendous. Despite the seriousness of the film it is not without a certain element of humour inasmuch as the various way the child is hidden reminds one of such films as THE BABY AND THE BATTLESHIP (a much inferior work). In addition to this minor comedy element the film also works in much the same way as films like the aforementioned THE GREAT ESCAPE or Billy Wilder's STALAG 17 with the battle of wits between the prisoners and their SS guards (a couple of whom would, it must be said, have been at home in ALLO, ALLO.

But the heart of the film (despite the undoubted propaganda intent) is to remind us of the evil of the nazi regime and the indomitable human spirit and bravery of some men in the face of almost unimaginable horrors. In execution I found the film almost flawless. Rating *****

Sunday, 22 January 2012


THE EDGAR WALLACE SERIES of B-movies were another product of Merton Park Studios and

like the previous series, THE SCALES OF JUSTICE, it was produced by Jack Greenwood. Back in the early 1980's I interviewed Jack Greenwood for an article I hoped to send the The Edgar Wallace society. I told Greenwood that my absolute favourite of the series was THE MALPAS MYSTERY directed by Sidney Hayers. Greenwood informed me that this particular film was the only one of the more than forty films in the series (counting ACT OF MURDER which was not really an entry in the series) that he had not produced! This didn't exactly get the interview off to a good start so although he answered most of my questions he wasn't exactly forthcoming and the article was not a success and was never submitted.

The series was very watchable and the rotating bust of writer Edgar Wallace and the theme music "Man of Mystery" (made into a hit by The Shadows) were always welcome extras at the cinema. Unlike the earlier Merton Park series which had been 30 minutes running time the Wallace series ran for about an hour. The strength of the series was that they had good stories - robbery stories like SOLO FOR SPARROW to locked room murder mysteries like THE CLUE OF THE NEW PIN (one of the best) and my own favourite, the aforementioned THE MALPAS MYSTERY which had something of the flavour of the German Wallace "Krimi" films being made simultaneously in West Germany. Casts included all the usual British B movie suspects like Jack Watling, Geoffrey Keen, Michael Coles, Allan Cuthbetson and Michael Gough (who did three films) and among the supporting actors one can spot young Michael Caine as an Irish crook in SOLO FOR SPARROW.


Exploring British supporting films of the 1950's and 1960's might not reveal much art but it can be fun. The series of 30 minute mysteries made at Merton Park were as much a part of my childhood cinema going as were the Edgar Wallace series (see previous post) of my late teenage years. The series consisted of thirty-nine films, each introduced and narrated by crime novelist and criminologist Edgar Lustgarten. Lustgarten (left) is perhaps best remembered today for being the direct inspiration for the "criminologist" narrator of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW. The series is of particular interest for some of the location shots taken in and around 1950's London.

SCOTLAND YARD was also the training ground for Ken Hughes who would go on to direct some interesting crime B movies (JOE MACBETH, THE LONG HAUL etc) and the much admired THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE before graduating to much bigger fare with CROMWELL and CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. Hughes directed the first half dozen or so of the series and two of my particular favourites. I have a mildly personal interest in THE BLAZING CARAVAN(1953) as the plot (at least the murder method itself) is obviously inspired by the murderer Arthur Rouse. My mother always swore that she had met Rouse just prior to the murder he committed and that he was her husband's cousin - despite much research I can find nothing to corroborate her claims. Better is THE DARK STAIRWAY (1954) which is virtually a mini film noir, full of shadows and other noir trappings which enliven this little murder tale set in the murky underworld of London's Soho alleys and drinking clubs.

When the series ended the format had been so successful that it was revived as THE SCALES OF JUSTICE which ran for thirteen episodes with Lustgarten again as the on screen narrator of stories inspired by murder trials. In 1971 Lustgarten was found dead from a heart attack in Marylebone Library, London. Some time earlier his mistress had been found dead in a bath in his flat, apparently a suicide.


Alan Bridges was a rather good British Television director in the 60's who went on to make a few cinema movies of varying quality. ACT OF MURDER was his first feature and received excellent reviews at the time of its release despite being a low-budget supporting feature. Often listed as one of Jack Greenwood's Edgar Wallace series made at Merton Park studios (and sold to American television as THE EDGAR WALLACE MYSTERY THEATRE) the film was not actually part of that series (hence the completely different titles sans the revolving bust of Wallace so well remembered by cinemagoers of the 60's). What could have been a puzzling little mystery is rather ruined by a script which gives the game away far to early. It is however easy to see why this litte programmer caught the eye of a few critics. Bridges strives to make something of the film with some interesting compositions and directorial flourishes not usually seen in British B-movies of the time. The very bleak ending is very unexpected. ACT OF MURDER is, despite its faults, a fitting companion to Bridges other interesting B-movie, the sci-fi INVASION. Rating **

IL VANGELO SECONDO MATTEO/The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)

Pier Paolo Pasolini's film has an awesome reputation as the best film based on the story of Jesus.
When I say that, for me, the film is problematic, I have no wish to take anything away from the director's achievement because I think this is a very heartfelt film. As a Christian myself I am aware that both believers and non-believers have many differing views of what Christ was like
and the fact that Pasolini's view doesn't happen to correspond with mine (although it comes closer than some) does not worry me in the slightest. There is a tendency in some to believe that the dirtier and grittier you depict something the nearer it becomes to reality. Unfortunately, in his depiction of First century Israel Pasolini is probably further away from reality than any Hollywood epic. In this film everybody seems to be scrabbling among the ruins and even Herod's Temple is a ruin when it was actually a building of great splendour still under construction in Jesus's time. It is all very well for Pasolini to base his film strictly on St. Matthew's Gospel but the film gives no sense of the Jewish backround either of the subject or of that particular Gospel (the most Jewish of the four). If a sense of realism was Pasolini's aim I feel that the casting of non-professionals works against this intent. Rossellini, Visconti and the other Italian neo-realists used non-professionals in their films for a purpose when depicting contemporary subjects and it worked in giving a sense of documentary realism. All Pasolini achieves (for me at least) is a lot of Italian peasants with bad teeth standing around in rags looking awkward. Like most biblical films Pasolini stumble on the depiction of the Resurrection - although one can hardly blame any director for that - and he veers sharply away from his avowed source. But there were things in the film I liked such as the early scenes with the young Virgin Mary (much more successful than the later scenes with Mama Pasolini as the aged Mary) and Joseph but they are few. As I have said, I don't doubt for a second Pasolini's sincerity
only his methods. It remains, however, a film that should be seen. Rating ***

Sunday, 15 January 2012


Here is an unashamed plug for a book written by two good friends of mine. I'll be honest and say that I have not read the book yet but having heard something of the background to the writing I am sure that this is going to be an interesting and informative read. Oliver Reed was a fine actor and also, sadly, one of the great tragedies of the British film industry and a book of this sort is long overdue. I am proud to say that I contributed a brief second -hand memoir related to me by my old friend, former Hammer publicist Brian Doyle who sadly died just before the authors could contact him. The book is currently available through Amazon and other sources.