Archive for the ‘Michael Gough’ Tag

The Skull (1965)   2 comments

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.

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“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.

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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.

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

aaadoc

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!

aaaayes
“Yes, it’s us.”

 

haunty

 

 

 

The Crimson Cult or Barbara Steele Is Green with Envy (1968)   2 comments

cult poster

British horror films of the 1960s and 1970s have a certain macabre look to them. The lighting is dim and Gothic architecture and misty moors abound. The films also look similar because they often cast a veritable repertory company of actors. Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gough, Barbara Steele, Ingrid Pitt, Patrick Magee, and American actors like Vincent Price, Burgess Meredith, and Jack Palance often appeared in low-budget films made by Hammer or Amicus Productions.

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In Britain during that era, Hammer Productions was the largest and best known of the horror houses. Hammer Productions kept the legends of Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Mummy going long after Universal Studios had forgotten them. Hammer’s horror films often starred Lee and Cushing and that alone induced people to buy tickets. At the same time Hammer was running Van Helsing ragged, Amicus Productions was also making horror films. Though Amicus made full-length films like THE DEADLY BEES and THE SKULL, portmanteau horror movies like TALES FROM THE CRYPT gained that studio the most attention.

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Competing with Hammer and Amicus and sharing office space at Hammer House in London, Tigon British Film Productions made fewer films, but often used the same actors, sets, and props as the other studios. That means you can see Lee and Cushing in Hammer’s SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, Amicus’ VAULT OF HORROR, or Tigon’s THE CREEPING FLESH. Often directors like Freddie Francis, Peter Sasdy, Terence Fisher, and Roy Ward Baker shuttled back and forth between studios as well. All three studios showed a little gore and a little skin and all three were popular with audiences.

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Tigon cast its actors for 1968’s THE CRIMSON CULT or CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR from the Hammer/Amicus horror repertory company. Most of the actors had worked together in earlier films. THE CRIMSON CULT leads Christopher Lee and Michael Gough appeared in films together including HORROR OF DRACULA for Hammer in 1958 and DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORROR for Amicus in 1965. Lee and Boris Karloff starred in CORRIDORS OF BLOOD for MGM in 1958. Familiarity breeds comfort.   The fact that these seasoned actors had already worked together allowed them to converse naturally on camera. The best scenes in the film feature the leads sharing a drink and a few barbs before a fire.

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“An then the Prime Minister said, Chris…he calls me Chris.”

After his brother goes missing, Robert Manning (Mark Eden), antiques dealer and bon vivant, travels to Craxted Lodge in fictional Greymarsh to find him. The lodge’s owner, Morley (Christopher Lee) and his niece, Eve (Virginia Wetherell) invite Manning to stay at the lodge while he searches for his brother. There he meets friendly torture-device expert, Professor Marsh (Boris Karloff) and crabby Elder (Michael Gough). Naturally, Manning’s arrival coincides with the annual bacchanal commemorating the burning of an infamous witch in the village. Manning gets on well with Morley and even better with Eve. Wink wink nudge nudge. He has fun while he’s awake, but at night Manning has hallucinogenic nightmares involving ritual sacrifice and document-signing. In his dreams, Lavinia Morley (Barbara Steele), an ancient witch sporting green makeup and horns, and her animal mask wearing cohorts try to force Manning to sign an ancient agreement. In his dreams, he fears signing the contract will mean losing his soul.

sign here
“You sure you don’t want that TrueCoat?”

Later Manning stumbles upon secret passageways and an altar room, both of which figure prominently in Hammer films and his frightening dreams. With all the talk of contract signing, I couldn’t help thinking of other films in which the characters are coerced to ‘just sign here’. Manning’s dreams remind me of a psychedelic version of GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, but with less coffee and more blood rituals.

moody
“Pentagrams are for closers.”

The interplay between Morley, Marsh, and Manning is my favorite part of the film. The screenplay by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln has enough witty banter for actors like Lee and Karloff to have fun with.  As usual, Lee plays an erudite aristocrat who tells only enough to make you suspect him of something. The looks and asides between him and Karloff are priceless. What about Marsh? Is he the crazed occultist invading Manning’s dreams? He does have a mysterious air and a weird hobby.

karloff
“Cindy-Lou who?”

Manning and Eve have real chemistry too and their mature love affair is a far cry from most of the American films released in 1968. Vernon Sewell directed THE CRIMSON CULT and it looks as if he had a blast. The party scene, the witch-burning festival, and even the costumes suggest the film-makers were enjoying themselves. Still, a few questions remain. Will Manning find his wayward brother? Will he be able to resist the beautifully verdant, but evil Lavinia Morley? Will Manning stop chugging Professor Marsh’s fifty-year-old cognac like a teenager at a keg party? And finally, who will win the mellifluous voice contest, Karloff or Lee?

 

THE CRIMSON CULT bears only a slight resemblance to H.P. Lovecraft’s story, THE DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE. In that, a college student who studies math and folklore begins to have dreams of witches and child sacrifice while living in an accursed house in Lovecraft’s fictional Arkham, Massachusetts.   The hero also dreams of traveling to other dimensions and meeting intelligent shapes. The filmmakers decided to stick with the more corporeal aspects of the story.

dear
“He’s too old for that hood.”

THE CRIMSON CULT’s distance from Miskatonic University matters less than the presence of Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff in one of his last roles, Barbara Steele with horns, and a weird party featuring guests drinking champagne off a woman’s body years before Salma Hayek did it in that Mexican vampire bar. Despite the absence of Cthulhu or even Yog-Sothoth, THE CRIMSON CULT has enough secret doorways, plot twists, and Christopher Lee to make it fun to watch.

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Understated.

A slightly different version of this piece appeared earlier in the Brattle Film Notes blog.  Here’s a link.  Brattle Theatre

Crucible of Horror (1970)   Leave a comment

crucible

Professional asshat, Walter Eastwood (Michael Gough), abuses and controls his wife and daughter. His brutality makes a compliant zombie of his wife Edith (Yvonne Mitchell) and a juvenile delinquent of his daughter, Jane (Sharon Gurney).   Conversely, Eastwood treats his snotty, arrogant son Rupert (Gough’s real-life son, Simon Gough) like gold. Eastwood’s compulsively neat patriarch demands perfection and returns only cruelty.

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“What a great day to be evil.”

Eastwood dictates all aspects of the women’s lives, telling them where to go, who to see, and reading and confiscating their mail.   The two women are virtual prisoners in their own home. At one point Eastwood discovers Jane stole money from their country club. He brutally whips his sixteen-year-old daughter and chuckles when the badly bruised girl comes down to breakfast the next morning. We know from flashbacks this isn’t the first time. Edith and Jane decide they’ve had enough.

momsis

“We’ve had enough.”

When Eastwood goes to his remote hunting lodge for the weekend, the women see their chance. Their plan to rid themselves of their tormentor runs into a few snags and there are some suspenseful scenes involving a nosy neighbor, ill-timed phone calls, and a body dump. Edith and Jane return home and find problems they never counted on.

chem

“Now that’s three fingers of deadly nightshade…”

Viktors Ritelis directed CRUCIBLE OF HORROR aka THE CORPSE as a thriller along the lines of DIABOLIQUE or CAUSE FOR ALARM. He keeps the pace slow in the beginning which stresses the oppressive atmosphere of the Eastwood’s home. Later, he speeds it up as we watch Edith and Jane scramble.

I enjoyed CRUCIBLE OF HORROR. It has a late 60s British look which differentiates it from American films of the same era. Michael Gough, a veteran of nearly two-hundred films, worked with Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and the whole Hammer/Amicus repertory company and he’s terrific as the nasty Walter Eastwood. He may be a sweet guy in real life, but he’s a rat in this film which makes him fun to watch. I’d recommend CRUCIBLE OF HORROR for the atmosphere, suspense, and Michael Gough’s scary performance.

Odd film fact: Sharon Gurney, who plays Rupert Eastwood’s (Simon Gough) sister Jane was married to him in real life. Kinky, eh?

clue

“I hate him soooooo much.”

 

Berserk (1967)   1 comment

berserk poster

Monica Rivers (Joan Crawford) runs a circus with a problem. Her headlining acts keep dying violently. As the death toll rises, Scotland Yard begins to take notice and they send a man (Robert Hardy) to investigate. With performers dropping dead, police hovering, and the rest of the troupe on edge, the stress level increases quickly. The circus performers start suspecting each other and their leader. Rivers isn’t winning friends either with her ‘my way or the highway’ demeanor or with her habit of romancing all the eligible men. She starts with co-owner Michael Gough and moves on to trapeze artist Ty Hardin.

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Ty’s turn.

The arrival of Rivers’ daughter Angela (Judy Geeson) complicates matters further and since no one is truly innocent, the audience wonders who is killing the great circus performers of England.

mommy
All the other kids are going!

Berserk is a fun film for a few reasons. It’s Joan Crawford’s penultimate film and she gets to be queen of the over the top big top. She even gets to wear her own clothes. Berserk’s low budget did not allow for Crawford’s usual extravagant wardrobe so she brought her own. There are some interesting circus scenes too. The dog act is particularly fun and fortunately, the film keeps clown presence to a minimum.

dogs
We’re here to give the circus a little class.

Directed by Jim O’Connolly (The Hi-Jackers, The Valley of the Gwangi), Berserk holds your interest. Circus shenanigans and spectacular deaths make for an entertaining show and Joan Crawford’s histrionics are always a treat. The cast of capable supporting actors and real circus performers make the film fun to watch. Look for Diana Dors as a mouthy magician’s assistant.

hmmm
What could happen?

batman
What’s this guy doing here?

Joan even manages to inject some Pepsi product placement into the film. I like Joan Crawford in films like Strait-Jacket, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, and Berserk. She knows how to chew her some furniture.

shock
Is that my paycheck?

The Small Back Room (1949)   Leave a comment

back room poster

A series of mysterious deaths, most of them children, follow the nightly German bombings during London’s blitz. After investigating, the Army learns that before their deaths by explosion these children all found a brightly-colored object resembling a thermos and died after approaching or touching it. Eager to learn something about the booby-traps and how to diffuse them, Captain Stuart (Michael Gough) seeks the aid of Sammy Rice (David Farrar), a highly regarded scientist in a top-secret intelligence investigation unit. The unit, housed in a dingy, small back room crack codes, test weaponry, and generally solve problems no one else can. Sammy, the de facto leader of the group meets Stuart and they decide he will call Sammy the next time they find a bomb so he can come to the scene and study it to prevent more deaths.

room

Sammy goes to work the next day and we see his co-workers. Till, played by Michael Goodliffe works on codes, ciphers, and statistics. Corporal Taylor (a young Cyril Cusack) deals with munitions. Joe (Emrys Jones) spends most of his time between assignments on the phone with his girl. Sue, played by the lovely Kathleen Byron serves as secretary and is having a secret affair with Sammy. The group works well together. They depend on Sammy to advocate for them with the higher ups. With a few exceptions, the middle and upper management are self-serving buffoons interested more in their own advancement than the safety and happiness of the men under them. A fine example of this is a trip the Minister of their section makes to the lab. The men put on a dog and pony show for the insipid man, beautifully played by Robert Morley, and show him some phony experiments to dazzle him. He leaves happily discussing restaurants with the obsequious Waring (Jack Hawkins) and the men can get back to work. Full of in-fighting and political intrigue, the department holds no interest for Sammy. Sammy sidesteps the political machinations, but never states his own opinion preferring to avoid conflict and responsibility. It’s clear he should be running the group, but he refuses to make any effort to do so.

bureaucracy

Sammy has other things on his mind. We find out early in the film that Sammy has a drinking problem. Bitter over an accident ten years before which left him with a prosthetic lower leg and in pain, Sammy turned to drink. He no longer drinks whiskey, but it takes resolve and the help of Sue to keep him sober. Sue is always there to support him when Sammy starts to falter. She adores him and he loves and depends on her. It’s a much more adult love story than most films of the 1940s and Farrar and Byron have amazing chemistry. Their physical relationship is implied as well. Soon, the pressures of Sammy’s job, his pain, both physical and mental, and his alcoholism threaten to end his affair and sabotage his career.

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All the while, bombs continue to fall on London and more die as a result of them and the booby traps. Captain Stuart and Sammy along with their crews work to stop the senseless killing. The scene with a hungover Sammy and a bomb on a beach is as suspenseful as they come.

bomb

In the commentary included on the Criterion version of The Small Back Room, Michael Powell refers to this film as a love story first and a WWII film second. Marketing The Small Back Room as a war film was a mistake, Powell says. No one wanted to see war films in 1949, so the film did poorly at the box office. That’s too bad because the film is a gem. Based on a book by Nigel Balchin, it has everything. A riveting story, characters we care about, and realistic acting by the entire cast make the film a joy. It’s one of those films that makes you wonder what happens to the characters after the film ends. It also looks fabulous. Christopher Challis, who worked as a camera operator on Powell and Pressburger’s 1947 masterpiece Black Narcissus did the cinematography for The Small Back Room. John Hoesli served as art director and Hein Heckroth did the production design. The artists really got to show off in one scene which reminded me of the surrealism of Milland’s bats in The Lost Weekend.

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Composer Brian Easdale even used a theremin to highlight the agony of an alcoholic trying valiantly to resist the drink. I can’t say enough about The Small Back Room. The performances by Farrar, Byron, Gough, Cusack, and the whole cast along with gorgeous black and white cinematography and wonderful production values courtesy of The Archers work. I highly recommend it.

Oh yes, I nearly forgot to mention Stonehenge. They shot part of the film at Stonehenge. So the film has terrific acting and writing and it also has Stonehenge…and a theremin. You owe it to yourself to see this.

stonehenge

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