Archive for the ‘British horror’ Tag

And Soon the Darkness (1970)   2 comments

When two friends on a biking tour of France are separated, one of them suspects the other is in trouble. Can she find her friend? How will she know who the good guys are when nobody wears a hat?


“Hey, is that Cary Grant up ahead?”

Two young British women, bicycling through the French countryside, have a row. Jane (Pamela Franklin) wants to stick to their schedule (pronounced shehjule), and Cathy (Michele Dotrice), fancies a bit of a lie down in the sun. Cathy falls asleep on the grass, but when she wakes up, she’s not alone. Meanwhile, Jane has cycled on to the next village to wait. When hours pass with no sign of her friend, Jane heads back to where Cathy was resting and finds no sign of her. She hitches back to town with the handsome, yet creepy, Paul (Sandor Elès), who claims to be an off-duty Sûreté officer.


“Have you ever seen a crawlspace?”

Paul vacations in this part of the country every year because he’s obsessed with an unsolved murder committed there a few years prior. Sure, buddy. Jane is understandably freaked out by Paul and his weird hobby, so she runs away from him to the home of the local gendarme, (John Nettleton) and his war-addled father, where she stays while the policeman searches for Cathy and Paul. Will the gendarme find Cathy safe? Will Paul get his motorbike started? Will Jane ever go to the bathroom? I mean, she’s been riding a bike all day and she’s had two orangeades without stopping. She’s like a camel.


“Just loading up for the desert crossing.”

Robert Fuest directed And Soon the Darkness as well as The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, The Devil’s Rain, and some of The Avengers series, so we know he’s a cool guy. The story, written by Brian Clemens and Terry Nation, is simple and Fuest keeps it taut and fast-moving. The tension comes from within the characters and it’s genuinely scary at times.


Quentin?

The music, by Laurie Johnson, who wrote the fab theme for The Avengers and a ton of other films and shows, contributes to the film’s urgent mood. The film looks great too. Cinematographer, Ian Wilson makes pretty pastoral shots and then moves in for a heart-pounding close-up. The final shot is chilling and beautiful.


“A little wax and she’ll be good as new.”

The oddball characters add to the atmosphere of confusion and fear, but Pamela Franklin carries the film. Her facial expressions convey what she’s feeling without exposition or a lot of dialogue. That works since one of the problems Franklin’s character, Jane faces is that she’s a British woman in a small rural town in France. She speaks very little French and the locals speak almost no English. It’s a subtle performance that could easily have descended to pantomime and shrillness, but doesn’t because Franklin keeps the character grounded. Sandor Elès as Paul is equal parts menacing and comforting in keeping with the whole ‘I’m not sure who to trust.’ theme.


“Get off my pelouse.”

And Soon the Darkness is a terrific little gem of a film. These smaller thrillers from the 1960s and 70s are my favorite things in the world and the British ones are the best. This was a great find.

 

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These Are the Damned (1963)   2 comments

poster

Simon Wells (Macdonald Carey) meets lovely Joan (Shirley Anne Field) on the street in a British seaside town and the two walk together toward a pub.  As soon as they leave the main drag, Simon gets jumped by a bunch of Teddy Boys led by Joan’s brother, King (Oliver Reed).  They beat him savagely and steal his wallet.  It’s clear Joan has acted as bait before, but she’s disturbed by King’s level of violence this time.

macdonald
“Look what you’ve done to his hat!!!”

What are Teddy Boys?  Teddy Boys are British teens who dressed in a modernized 1950s/60s version of the Edwardian style.  Some formed gangs and committed petty crimes and were a nuisance generally.

king
“That outfit is hideous. You had to be stopped.”

Anyway, Joan sees the error of her ways and joins Simon on his boat.  Simon has a boat.  The two moor at a remote cabin atop a craggy mountain of rock.  The house happens to be the summer home of bohemian artist Freya Neilson (Viveca Lindfors) who happens to be the longtime lover of Bernard (Alexander Knox).

viveca
Freya being all arty and junk.

Bernard?  Bernard runs a top secret military base next door to his girlfriend’s place.  Yup.  There’s a lot of Freya wondering aloud about the purpose of the outpost surrounded by barbed wire and guard dogs, but Bernard isn’t talking.  We get a vaguely sinister vibe from Bernard and his cohorts Captain Gregory (James Villiers) and Major Holland (Walter Gotell), but no real clue as to their mission until Bernard skypes with some kids in a classroom.

skype
“I hope you brought your number 2 pencils.”

After we meet the children, we’re left to divine who they are.  Is Bernard training them to be spies?  Are the kids aliens?  Read: THESE ARE THE VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED.  We’re not sure about them until Simon and Joan (remember them?) run into the kids’ hideout while escaping King and his cosh boy pals.  Then the whole part science fiction/part Cold War nightmare/part love story plot makes sense.  Well, sort of.

children cave 2
“A Pakuni kid called Cha-Ka and Sleestaks? What kind of cave is this?”

Director, Joseph Losey doesn’t get too arty, but manages a few suspenseful scenes in THESE ARE THE DAMNED.  Based on the novel, THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT by H.L. Lawrence, the film meanders a bit and is hampered by underdeveloped characters and a less than exciting script.  To be fair, screenwriter Evan Jones had to cram a lot into 87 minutes.  More creative editing might have helped.  There are a few scenes in the first half of the film which, if cut, would have given the plot and characters more time to gel in the second half.  If they had spread the ‘getting to know you’ part all through the film instead of the stock first half, biography, second half, action, the movie might hold more interest.

these-are-the-damned-06
“I thought you said there’d be water.”

Alexander Knox does a decent job playing the benevolent captor and Macdonald Carey and Sally Anne Field grow into a nice chemistry as the story progresses.

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“Our love transcends the 20 minutes we’ve known each other.”

Oliver Reed is suitably brutal as the disturbed gang leader.

reed
“When you’re a Jet…”

I liked watching this film because I wasn’t sure what would happen and the dark ending surprised me.  Hammer Studios made a number of non-Gothic horrors which I generally love.  This one tries to do too much and falls short.  THESE ARE THE DAMNED is watchable though and it’s always fun to see another dystopian Cold War film.

8Damned
One of these things is not like the others…

The Skull (1965)   Leave a comment

skull poster

Do you collect things? Stamps? Godzilla figurines? Commemorative spoons? In The Skull, Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing) and Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee) collect all things Satan. They scour auction houses in search of devilish statues and books about torture for their macabre collections. They even buy hot tchotchkes from shady evil-stuff-seller, Marco (Patrick Wymark). Marco stocks an unusual variety of bizarre items, including a book he sells to Maitland. It’s a rare book. Well, one hopes it’s rare since it’s the memoirs of the Marquis de Sade covered in human skin. Nummy. Anyway, Maitland jumps at the chance to drop major ducats on the tome, which gives you some idea about his level of dedication to his hobby.

skullbook
I’ll wait for the paperback.

The next night, Maitland lounges in his well-appointed study reading his skin book when Marco arrives with a new demonic accessory to clutter his bookshelves. Marco brings Maitland a skull. This is no ordinary, dime-store skull, mind you. This skull has provenance. Well, Marco says it has anyway. This skull is the bony part of the head of the Marquis de Sade! Why Marco didn’t sell the skin diary/skull as a set will forever remain a mystery. The two men haggle over skull prices, as one does, but Maitland won’t bite. Maitland mentions the exchange to his friend, Sir Matthew, who warns him not to buy it by saying, “All I can say is keep away from the skull of the Marquis de Sade.” Words to live by, Matthew. Words to live by.

pool
“That skull’s evil, right devil statue?”

Unfortunately, Maitland doesn’t listen to his friend and drops by Marco’s place to buy the skull. Marco is indisposed, being dead and all, so Maitland grabs his souvenir and hits the road. Back home in his library, Maitland relaxes after a hard day’s looting. He spends a lovely evening surrounded by statues of Beelzebub reading about sadism from a book made of skin.

the-skull-09
Cozy.

Almost immediately, weird stuff happens. The normally peaceful Maitland begins to feel a strange, homicidal urge.
Is it coincidence? Is it the skull? Is he not getting enough fruit? Only the skull knows for sure.

wife
“Honey? You up?”

The Skull is an absolute blast. The stellar cast of Amicus/Hammer regulars, including Patrick Magee, Michael Gough, and Jill Bennett, add to the general atmosphere of British horror wonderfulness. We even get a little George Coulouris for good measure.

pat
“You didn’t see my lips move, didja?”

Robert Bloch (Psycho) wrote the story, aptly named “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade”.  Milton Subotsky, half of the Amicus production team of Rosenberg/Subotsky wrote the screenplay and the script moves right along. Director, Freddie Francis, a veteran of Amicus films, knows how to pack a lot into 83 minutes. They also pack some cool special effects into The Skull. Ted Samuels, who created the special effects for a number of Amicus features including Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors and The Psychopath outdid himself here. The skull, you see, flies. When provoked, it floats gracefully toward the camera. It’s not a choppy, Tingleresque motion, rather a majestic glide. The skull also lights up. It even manages to look evil. I stopped the DVD three times to watch a lit skull soar across a gentleman’s study. Seriously, you need to see this. If I haven’t convinced you yet, think about this. One scene in The Skull shows Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing playing pool…in tuxes.  ‘Nuff said.

skull
Hiya!

Note to self: Check into the possibility of manufacturing skull nightlights. You know, for kids.

 

 

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