Archive for the ‘Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors’ Tag

Freddie Francis: Reluctant Horror Icon   3 comments

Freddie Francis once said, “Horror films have liked me more than I have liked horror films.”

The director of more than forty films and television episodes, including twenty-five horrors and the cinematographer of nearly forty more, Freddie Francis may have been typecast as a horror director for good reason. He was good at it.

He started his film career as a camera operator. A friend and protégé of Oscar-winning cinematographer, Oswald Morris, Francis worked for and with Morris and Ronald Neame at Pinewood Studios until World War II broke out in 1939. Francis joined the Army Kinematographic Society, based at Wembley Studios, and spent the next seven years making training films. After leaving the military in 1946, Francis found work as a camera operator at Shepperton Studios, where he worked with Powell & Pressburger, John Huston, Tony Richardson, and a bunch of other incredibly talented directors. On the set of Huston’s Moby Dick, Francis asked if he could head up the second unit. Oswald Morris gave an enthusiastic yes, and Francis acted as director of photography for the first time.


“Call me irresponsible.”

From 1956 to 1964, Francis was director of photography on over a dozen films before beginning his directing career with the film, Two and Two Make Six in 1962. It didn’t fare well. After winning the Oscar for cinematography with Sons and Lovers in 1960, and acclaim with The Innocents, (Francis’ favorite film), his friends were surprised he made the leap to directing.


Don’t turn around.

His background in cinematography may explain why Francis directed some of the most visually stunning of the Hammer and Amicus films. In the early 1960s, Francis directed Paranoiac, Nightmare, Hysteria, and The Evil of Frankenstein for Hammer before making Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, The Skull, The Psychopath, The Deadly Bees, and The Torture Garden for Amicus. In 1968, another terrific Hammer director, Terence Fisher was hit by a motorbike and broke his leg during post-production work on The Devil Rides Out. Fisher was set to direct Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, starring Christopher Lee, but Hammer replaced him with Freddie Francis. Throughout the 1970s, Francis worked for both Hammer, Amicus, Tigon, and other, smaller companies, making The Creeping Flesh, Trog, Tales from the Crypt, and an odd little nugget made by Apple films and starring Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr, called Son of Dracula. He also directed some episodic TV shows before returning to cinematography.


Ringo Starr is Merlin and Harry Nilsson is Count Downe. Yup.

In 1980, David Lynch hired Francis as director of photography on his disturbing and poignant film, The Elephant Man, and later his ill-fated, but gorgeously-photographed, Dune. Francis also served as DP on The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Executioner’s Song, Glory, for which he won his second Oscar, The Man in the Moon, Cape Fear, School Ties, and the beautiful and simply shot film, The Straight Story, again, for David Lynch.


Mr. Bytes thinks up his next good deed.

One of the reasons I chose to write about Francis for this blogathon was my love for Amicus anthology films and Freddie Francis directed three of them. In Amicus’ first anthology, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), six men meet on a train. Peter Cushing (Dr. Terror) pulls out a deck of tarot cards, claiming he can see what’s to come for each man in the car. Oddly, their futures don’t look bright. Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Donald Sutherland, and Bernard Lee also star in the five segments.


“Got anyyyy eights?”

In Francis’ next anthology film, The Torture Garden (1967), Burgess Meredith stars as Dr. Diabolo, a carnival barker who lures four unsuspecting victims into his cave-like back room where they learn about their less than rosy fates. Peter Cushing, Michael Ripper, Niall MacGinnis, and Jack Palance join in the fun. Robert Bloch, of Psycho fame, wrote the stories in The Torture Garden and many of the other Amicus anthologies. They’re literate, full of black humor and twisty endings, and a lot of fun.


“Lemme tell ya about the rabbits, Jack.”

Francis ended his anthology run with a bang. Tales from the Crypt (1972) stars Ralph Richardson as The Crypt Keeper, who leads five people through their terrifying stories. Peter Cushing, Ian Hendry, Patrick Magee, Nigel Patrick, and the spectacular Joan Collins star in these dark tales, based on William Gaines’ EC Comics.


“Want to hear a story?”

Francis dug Peter Cushing, by the way. He said of the actor, “I think Peter is absolutely wonderful. There is not an actor in the world who can speak rubbish like Peter and make it sound real.”


“I can’t believe it’s not butter!”

Amicus producers, Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg borrowed the template of individual tales connected by a linking story, from the portmanteau horror film, Dead of Night (1945). Dead of Night was not the first anthology film or even the first horror anthology, but it aligned well with Amicus’ association with Robert Bloch and suited the repertory company of actors working in horror films at the time. It also made money for Amicus, who made seven of these films.


“Once, I picked up a squirrel and squeezed it until it stopped moving.”

While I love the portmanteau horrors Freddie Francis directed, I love two of his films more. In 1965, Francis took the Robert Bloch story, “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade” and an all-star cast, including Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Nigel Green, and Patrick Magee, and made The Skull. The Skull is awesome on so many levels, it’s hard for me to contain myself to write this. Cushing and Lee collect demonic art. They also play billiards holding brandy snifters and wearing smoking jackets while discussing pure evil. The oft-sniveling Patrick Wymark is a scuzzy seller of stolen devil memorabilia, who offers to sell Cushing the skull of the Marquis de Sade. He happens to have it lying around. Since Wymark already sold Cushing a book made of human skin, he figures it’s a cinch. Amazingly, the skull of the Marquis de Sade is no ray of sunshine. Let’s just say anyone associated with the skull in question better have his beneficiaries updated. Story aside, the effects in this film are killer. The evil skull floats all over Cushing’s well-appointed gentleman’s lair of evil stuff and the skull POV shots are fantastic. The Skull is so much fun.


“Have I mentioned I sell Amway?”

The second film worth highlighting is The Deadly Bees (1966). If you know me at all, you know I love skulls and movies with bees in them. The Deadly Bees is a movie with bees in it. Suzanna Leigh is a frazzled pop star recuperating from a nervous breakdown. Her doctor recommends that she rest on friendly, Seagull Island, where no one is getting killed by bees or anything. While Leigh relaxes, her hosts, who might have watched Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf too many times, fight about just about everything, including bees. Will bees attack Suzannah? What about Michael Ripper? The Deadly Bees also has a cool cameo. Ron Wood, guitarist for the Rolling Stones, appears on a Hullabaloo-like show, early in the film, as a member of The Birds. The bee effects lack sophistication, but it was the first killer bee film, after all, so back off.


Suzannah Leigh wears a bear before meeting the bees.

Freddie Francis may not have relished his career in horror, but I do and if you’re reading this, you probably do, too. Francis directed and filmed the biggest stars in Britain over a career spanning sixty years. He worked with Hammer, Peter Cushing, the Archers, Christopher Lee, Amicus, John Huston, and Captain Ahab. Not a bad record for this vicinity.

I wrote this article for The Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon, hosted by Barry of Cinematic Catharsis and RealWeedgieMidget Reviews. They’re swell movie types and @Barry_Cinematic and @realweedgiemidge on Twitter.

 

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Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)   6 comments

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Ahhh Amicus. I love your sordid little anthology films. Just seeing the names Milton Subotsky, Max Rosenberg, and Freddie Francis makes me smile. The funny little touches, the simple linking story, and the superb casts combine to entertain me more than any other horror films of the period. Maybe it’s my short attention span, but I love these stories.

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“Read ’em and weep, gentlemen!”

In Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, six men meet in a train car. One of them, Dr. W.R. Schreck (Peter Cushing) has a set of tarot cards and claims he can tell the future of anyone who taps his deck three times. Schreck, which in German means terror, reads three cards for each man to tell his fortune, a fourth to determine his fate, then a fifth, which will divine whether or not the man can alter his future.

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“Tarot this, Dr. T!”

In the first story, “Werewolf”, architect, Jim Dawson (Neil McCallum) travels to a remote island in Scotland to renovate his old house. While exploring the basement, Dawson finds a coffin full of Count Cosmo Valdemar. One of Dawson’s ancestors killed Valdemar hundreds of years ago and the Count holds grudges…even after he’s dead. Apparently, Valdemar is coming back to life as a werewolf. Dawson knows his stuff so he melts down a silver cross to make anti-werewolf bullets.  Things don’t go as planned.

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“I’ll make a mint with this on Antiques Roadshow.”

“Creeping Vine” tells the story of a robot that eats children. Actually, it tells the story of a creeping vine. I can’t put anything past you. This is no ordinary ivy plant. This vine is a killer. Even the marvelous Bernard Lee can’t stop it. All I can say is the British are too polite. A little well-place poison or a flamethrower would do wonders. This part has a cool ending.

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“Enough with the Miracle Grow already!”

“Voodoo” involves a trumpet player in a jazz quintet, Biff Bailey (Roy Castle) who hears a cool tune while visiting the West Indies. He decides to steal the song and call it his own. The people who actually wrote the song don’t like it.

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“A little auto-tune and this’ll be huge!”

Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee), who isn’t buying any of Dr. Terror’s tarot tales, stars in “The Disembodied Hand”.  In this segment, Lee plays a nasty art critic who insults the artwork of Eric Landor (Michael Gough). Landor makes a fool of Marsh and then taunts him relentlessly. Marsh has no sense of humor so he runs Landor over with his car. Hands go missing and soon Marsh is getting an unexpected back rub while driving. This almost never ends well.

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Digits roasting on an open fire…

The last story, “Vampire”, stars Donald Sutherland as Dr. Bob Carroll. Dr. Carroll moves back to his New England hometown with his new wife, Nicole (Jennifer Jayne) to start a practice there. A series of mysterious illnesses and deaths convince Carroll to look for a vampire. After consulting with the other town doctor, Dr. Blake (Max Adrian), the men decide to take action. I love the twisty ending to this tale.

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“I don’t think we covered this in medical school.”

As in most of the Amicus portmanteau films, we switch back to the linking story between segments and at the end. The template, laid out in Dead of Night (1945) works a treat. This was the first of the Amicus anthologies and it’s fun. The pace drags in parts, but the last two segments and the linking parts make up for it. Also, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing!

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“Yes, it’s us.”

 

haunty

 

 

 

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