Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Deadly Bees (1967)

A contemporary Amicus horror film directed by Freddie Francis, starring Suzanna Leigh and a wild eyed, over-the-top and eccentric Frank Finlay, also featuring Michael Ripper as a publican, with songs by Elkie Brooks (dubbing Leigh) and The Birds on screen with Ronnie Wood and a screenplay co-written by Robert Bloch based on H.F. Heard’s bestselling Holmes pastiche A Taste for Honey.

So what could go wrong?

 Actually not all that much at first glance.

Though mainly known for their anthology horror concepts, these always were a bit hit and miss and it’s therefore good to see one of Amicus’ proper feature length forays into horror. Not making this a Gothic horror production wisely set them apart from Hammer while at the same time securing some of Hammer’s key personnel guaranteeing a certain recognition factor.

Suzanna Leigh plays a popular singer on the verge of a mental breakdown who is sent off to a remote island for some respite. (The doctor who diagnoses her is played by a blink and you’ll miss him Michael Gwynn.) The vibes of Swinging London are represented by Swinging Cameras going back and forth while capturing a performance by The Birds (and the bees… nudge nudge). In contrast rural England is frequented by merry publicans, cheerful lasses, eccentric characters and a dysfunctional couple, the husband (Guy Doleman, best known as SPECTRE agent Count Lippe from Thunderball), a brooding farmer/bee keeper who keeps his raging emotions only barely under control and whose venomous, chain smoking wife (Catherine Finn, Michael Ripper’s wife in real life) never lets him forget who it is that has the money in the relationship and out of spite never even bothers answering the phone even when she sits right next to it.

Watching this kaleidoscope of 1960s genre characters is a joy but of course this is the first killer bee movie ever made and based on a popular Sherlock Holmes pastiche, so how does this fare as either a horror or mystery movie?

Not that well, is the short answer……

The only thing frightful about the killer bee attacks is how awful they look. Given that Freddie Francis was a future Academy Award winning cinematographer it is surprising how bland the production looked. The bee attacks in particular are badly process shot in slow motion while the actors were flailing wildly with plastic insects of a kind stuck to their faces.

And for a mystery there really is very little of that. We only ever have two suspects for being the mastermind behind the bee attacks and one of them is so blatantly obviously suspected by just about everyone that the real killer simply must be the other one.

Given that this is an adaptation of a popular book it is surprising to see how much Amicus didn’t even bother with the novel’s main attraction: the fact that its hero, Mr Mycroft, is a very thinly disguised Sherlock Holmes enjoying his retirement as a rural bee-keeper!

In the movie there is no reference to either Holmes or Mycroft or indeed the male Watson substitute and book’s narrator. It appears that in Bloch’s original version of the screenplay these references were much clearer. Bloch had seemingly envisaged Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff in the main parts. Amicus and/or Freddie Francis, however, took a dislike to Bloch’s concept and changed it further on leaving only the barest hints of its initial source idea.

Still, this may be both a failed mystery and horror thriller and at the time those aspects may have been the primary reason for it being critically dismissed. Nearly 50 years after the movie first hit the cinema screens, however, the then current horror flick has started carrying a patina that easily masks its short comings.

For me it will always be a pleasure to watch Michael Ripper behind a bar and encountering a range of off-beat English characters as well as 1960s starlets, a trip back in time to a mythical England where animals attack and civil servants wear bowler hats. Freddie Francis may just be a journeyman director but he is my kind of journeyman director and the film is a very enjoyable way to spend some 83 minutes.

The Deadly Bees was sometimes paired in a double feature together with The Vulture.

 

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Peter Cushing Scrapbook


Ever since I got my Kindle a little bit less than two years ago my reading and book buying habits have changed quite a bit. 

Whereas previously I was a regular client with the local bookstores and often purchased normal paperbacks at normal prices, this has now nearly completely gone down the river. Unless I receive a book voucher, I generally don’t spend any money on bog standard paperbacks anymore.

I quickly learned that I can easily get the classics for free and when I want a current novel or non-fiction book I get them cheaply and often at a great discount in an eFormat.

I am also a great fan of classic pulp fiction, easily get bored with the cover design for most modern editions and regularly frequent the Second Hand book stores, again getting my regular reading fix from discounted second hand books.

On the other hand, however, I have over the last few years spent a crazy amount of money on some exclusive edition coffee table books that may cost an arm and a leg but that truly deserve a special place on my shelves.

Especially us Hammer Fans have over the years been able to reserve some of our shelf space for beautiful tomes on all aspects of Hammer. 

Wayne Kinsey is one of the most prolific authors in this field and when his Hammer Films on Location failed to find a regular publisher he simply set up his own publishing house, Peveril Publishing.

The Peter Cushing Scrapbook is his second venture and limited to 2000 copies.





Printed landscape in an oversized scrapbook format this is a beautiful accumulation of Cushing memorabilia and a celebration of the life and career of the Gentleman of Horror who would have turned 100 this year.

The material is published on a film-by-film basis with short introductions provided by co-author Tom Johnson. None other than George Lucas has provided the foreword; the afterword is by Janina Faye.

The heart and soul of this work, however, are a myriad of pictures accompanying each chapter and generously provided by his secretary Joyce Broughton or on loan from a range of collectors worldwide.

These range from often rare and previously unpublished private and on-set photos to theatre programs, snippets of newspaper publications and most importantly countless reproductions of Cushing’s own copiously annotated scripts and sketches for costume suggestions as well as cartoons and phonetic rhymes created for his beloved wife Helen and other friends and colleagues. More than any written word can do, these give a wonderful insight into the true nature of Cushing, the man, and his vast range of interests and talents. Yes, we of course also get a good idea of all those scarves he designed, his toy soldiers, dollhouses and watercolours. And if you ever wondered what his well-travelled passports looked like, then wonder no more.

The most amazing insight into his professionalism as an actor comes from noticing the extent of notes he prepared in advance of any film shot, regardless how big or small the production may have been. Even lesser works such as The Uncanny or Hitler's Son had his full attention. No wonder he was incapable of ever providing a bad performance.

Those coffee table publications stand and fall with the quality of their printing and the reproductions here are faultless. I had no issue deciphering any of the script pages or other written material. The binding also appears to be made to last. The landscape format is unusual but ultimately a good choice for the subject matter.

This book is exclusively available through Peveril. When ordering it is also possible to purchase an additional DVD-R with some of the pictures in the book as well as a few others that didn’t quite make the cut. That DVD-R is not really essential but a nice extra to have.

As long as Wayne and some of the other authors will continue with their sterling efforts in creating those visual master-pieces, my book shelves will find a welcome space for those. No fear of me ever wanting to have these in anything else but a physical copy.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

New Hammer to remake THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN


Over the last couple of years New Hammer has risen from the grave and started producing a range of excellent horror movies that by and large were quite effective but didn't really share much of a link with the classic Hammer films.

True, THE WOMAN IN BLACK, probably their best new production, was a Gothic horror film and THE RESIDENT featured a cameo by Christopher Lee but overall the connections to the older films were tenuous.

This, however, will soon change.....

There have been rumours about Hammer reviving some of their older franchises before but today's press release (full text below) confirms that they are now going to remake their own ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN production.

When it comes to remakes, this is quite an excellent choice as they are approaching a movie that has its share of fans but that isn't widely recognised yet and features a monster that has not yet been done to death. As such they can explore new angles and approaches without being steeped too deeply in preconceived lore.

I for one am looking forward to it and am planning to revisit the original again over the next couple of months plus maybe review its literary background and other Yeti movies. Let's see.....

HAMMER TO RE-ENVISION THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN

London – 21st November, 2013:  President & CEO of Hammer and Vice-Chairman of Exclusive Media, Simon Oakes, announced today that Hammer, an Exclusive Media company, will produce a new version of The Abominable Snowman. The project is being developed by Hammer in association with Ben Holden (The Quiet Ones, The Woman in Black: Angel of Death).

In this modern take on the Yeti myth, a scientific expedition’s illegal ascent up an unclimbed peak of one of the World’s most formidable mountains accidentally awakens an ancient creature that could spell a certain end for them all.

The original screenplay by Matthew Read (Pusher, Hammer of the Gods) and Jon Croker (The Woman In Black: Angel of Death, Desert Dancer) will put a modern twist on the 1957 iconic original film from Hammer’s extensive canon of work. The project marks a continuation of Hammer’s ongoing campaign to maintain their heritage of producing enduring British horror films which are original, current and relevant for modern audiences, following on from The Woman in Black which became the most successful British horror film of all time.

Simon Oakes said of the project: "The success of Let Me In and The Woman In Black has shown that there is an appetite for quality horror films so it is exciting to draw on Hammer’s unparalleled source material in this genre which can be reimagined and updated for a new audience”.

Ben Holden is currently collaborating with Hammer on The Woman in Black: Angel of Death, which is in production in the UK now.  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

I. Have. Returned.

Well… kind of.

After too long a time spending far too many hours working too many jobs, I have now simplified my life, quit the corporate world and am focusing entirely on my own projects, meaning predominantly working away as a private German tutor in Cork. 

If you want to pick up some tips and tricks on learning German, please feel free to visit my Facebook page

Oh, and I also give lessons through Skype.

What that means is that I should also finally have more time at hand to again focus on this dangerously abandoned blog of mine. I am not putting any undue pressure on me as to how often I might post again, but you should definitely see an upsurge in new posts over the coming weeks and months.

And for starters I would like to draw your attention to Flesh and Blood, Book 3.

If you remember, I was quite ecstatic about the first issue of this new 4-part horror comic series and had also featured an interview with the creators, Neil Vokes and Bob Tinnell, who had succeeded in creating a unique Gothic induced comic book world that was obviously influenced by the imagery of Hammer’s classic production without ever resorting to a simple rip-off of their tropes and themes. 

BOOK 2 had finished with a tantalizing hint of a time travelling Victor Frankenstein and BOOK 3 kicks off about half a century into the future in the late 19th century, a period of more than a passing familiarity for us Hammerheads.

Rather than being an all-encompassing demon slasher monster mash, the current issue focuses predominantly on Frankenstein and his attempts to regenerate a certain Dr Jeckyll who passed away while being possessed by his evil Alter Ego. He transfers Jeckyll’s persona into that of his final female victim and, hey presto, Frankenstein Created Woman and Dr Jekyll becomes Sister Hyde!


Just like in the previous parts, Tinnell and Vokes both manage to create a slice of genre comic that is clearly inspired by the magic of the Hammer Horrors, yet do it in such a unique way that this remains a genuinely new and unique piece of story telling.

With its new focus on the Jekyll & Hyde story and moving away from the Carmilla/Dracula/Werewolf angle of the first two books, BOOK 3 could easily be read independently by those readers who are not yet familiar with the FLESH AND BLOOD universe.

And a proper universe this is soon becoming as theoretically nothing should now be able to stop Mssrs. Vokes and Tinnell to further expand on these topics and set them up with any new monster and at any possible period of time. Kind of like what CAPTAIN KRONOS may have become had that film turned into a series.

In addition to the main graphic novel, we also get the continuation of two other far shorter comic books stories written by Tinnell (Baron Frankenstein drawn by Adrian Salmon and Operation Satan by Bob Hall). Tom Savini provides the foreword and with it one of my current favourite quotes: “The more you do, The more you get to do!” And an article by Michael H. Price with an overview of horror comics rounds up the entire oeuvre.

What can I say? It's good to be back.








Friday, March 22, 2013

The Peter Cushing Scrapbook - A Centenary Celebration


There are two types of people.

One, let’s call them: Me, who lead a busy life and barely manage to write a measly blog post.

Two, let’s call them: Wayne Kinsey, who lead an even busier and more demanding professional life – I doubt that being a forensic pathologist is for slouches – and in the time that it takes me to write a few lines manage to publish yet another high quality book.

Wayne is one of only a small number of authors who have managed to set themselves up as a true authority on Hammer films and have helped us all to expand our shelves with books and magazines covering just about any aspect of Hammer’s extensive history and filmography.

So much so that it is virtually impossible to come up with a Hammer related topic that has not been covered yet and that doesn’t stray into the niche-niche market area.

Following up on last year’s Hammer on Locations, Wayne’s (and Peveril Publishing’s) next oeuvre strays from the general Hammer overviews and is dedicated to a topic that appears so blatantly obvious as a fan’s delight that it’s surprising it has never been covered before. Outside of his numerous acting roles, Peter Cushing has also become well known as a wonderful artist in his own right. He meticulously sketched character aides in the copies of practically all his screenplays, designed scarves and jewellery for his wife, drew cartoons in correspondence with friends, designed model theatres, painted water colours etc. Yet despite the fact that some examples of this vast output have been reproduced elsewhere, there has never been a proper overview over this aspect of Cushing’s portfolio.

Until now.

Very shortly we will be able to glance over The Peter Cushing Scrapbook - A Centenary Celebration. Brought together with the help of Cushing’s longtime secretary Joyce Broughton the book promises to be yet another keeper.

As for order information, Wayne writes:

“Full colour limited numbered edition (A4 landscape; 328 pages) with over 1800 photographs ONLY available from www.peverilpublishing.co.uk Keep watching the website and Peveril Publishing Facebook site for details of when sales go live late April/early May. Cover price £35, postage costs yet to be verified. We are not taking pre-orders but email peverilpub@aol.com or follow contact link on website to register your interest. Wayne will reply to these emails just before sales go live to ensure you get an early signed number.”







Friday, February 1, 2013

Mountain of the Cannibal God (IT, 1978)

I recently discussed this film with an online buddy and wanted to point him towards my little blog review here, just to notice that I had a review online on my older, now-defunct Hammer Glamour site but that I hadn't actually transferred it over yet. The review is a few years old and I haven't done anything in touching it up.


Amongst the general public horror movies have a pretty bad reputation. Splatter movies are considered even worse. Italian Splatter productions will raise more than just a few eyebrows, but admitting to watch Italian Cannibal movies with their ultra-gory effects scenes and real-life animal slaughter will have you hounded by PETA and is considered by most to be just one step ahead of a snuff enthusiast. God only knows so what caused real stars such as Ursula Andress and Stacy Keach to appear in one of these oeuvres but I guess we all have our bills to pay. Both actors could hardly have hoped to expand their fan audience by making a film clearly aimed at a very niche market.

Andress plays the wife of a researcher who went missing in the jungles of New Guinea. She goes in search of her husband with the help of adventurer Stacy Keach and under background tunes of Italo Pop musicians Guido & Maurizio De Angelis ("Oliver Onions"), stumbling across the occasional tribe or two of cannibals along the way. Not much in the line of surprises so but then again a decent story was usually the last thing on cannibal fans’ minds.What is on most cannibal fans’ minds, however, is the quality of the gore scenes. Though most of the natives seem to happily munch away any chance they get, it is usually animals they eat. The actual cannibalism occurs mainly towards the end of the movie. One especially nasty sequence that is often cut from available prints is a very realistic castration scene.


Director Sergio Martino leaves no stone unturned when it comes to showing animal snuff: Throughout the entire film we are constantly reminded that this is a dog-eat-dog kinda world and get to watch natives ripping apart a lizard or a snake slowly suffocating a monkey. In an Anchor Bay DVD Martino was asked about the latter scene and commented that this scene happened naturally while walking past the snake, and that he in actual fact did nothing but hold the camera in order to film nature at play. Following this claim the interviewers then presented Martino with clips of film that clearly showed that the monkey was thrown at the snake for dubious entertainment’s sake. Somehow Natural Geographic never had to resort to these means for their documentaries. Needless to say after that stunt Martino will hardly be available for future interviews of the kind.

Looking at the bright side: Andress does have two nude scenes. In the second one she is covered in white paint by some of the tribe women. Much to the male viewers’ delight, Bo Derek a few years later suffered a similar fate in her husband's, John Derek's, adaptation of Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981). Andress had also been one of Derek's wives at one stage, so I wonder whether he closely followed her films and was actually inspired by Andress' stunt in this production.

Another scene that is quite memorable – though, of course, on an altogether different level - is seeing the lost researcher’s corpse with a Geiger counter instead of his heart. Andress’ "surprise" character twist, however, towards the end of the movie comes as no surprise whatsoever to anyone familiar with staple Italian horror fare. And Stacy Keach’s character comes to an untimely death, probably caused by budgetary restraints.

Overall, this is a film that finds it hard to please anyone: Too tame for cannibal gorehounds, it is still too heavy to please the average cinema audience who may have expected to watch a run-of-the-mill adventure story when coming across a picture like this starring two otherwise bankable movie stars. 

The film has repeatedly been released but to the best of my knowledge the Anchor Bay release is the only one uncut.




Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Where is the Ghoul?


Has it ever struck you that we have no idea where The Ghoul is set?
Me neither, until relatively recently. But when you watch a film as often as I’ve watched this equally beloved and maligned Tyburn showstopper (I believe the correct medical term is ‘too often’), it is inevitable that you start to think about it in ways and to degrees that its infrastructure was never designed to reward or uphold. 

Now, some films tell you where they are set and some films don’t: no big deal.
But The Ghoul is intriguing because it mentions one location and one only: Land’s End, the ultimate destination of the car race that lands the four heroes in so much cannibalistic trouble.
But we don’t know if they actually get there, or, if not, how close they get by the time disaster strikes. And we don’t know where they start from either.
I had always lazily assumed that it was indeed in the vicinity of Land’s End that they find themselves stranded, but we are never actually told this for sure. The unhelpful local policeman has some kind of a Westcountry accent, but we are not explicitly informed even of the county. I also assumed, even more lazily as it turns out, that they started from London, and was frankly amazed, when I double-checked, to learn that my assumptions are completely unsupported by anything in the film itself. Neither is it at all likely, since the only assistance we are given is the observation that Land’s End is “over a hundred miles” from where they begin, immediately corrected to “more like two.”

Land's End, Summer 2012

Every year the wife and I spend a week with my parents at an inn just inland of Land’s End, and most mornings I get up at 5 and enjoy the lonely cliff walk to England’s most southerly point as dawn rises.
As many of you will know, Land’s End itself is now a giant tourist attraction, a shopping village cum theme park which is, I’m sure, a living hell during the day, when it’s crammed with soggy visitors and you have to pay to get in. But first thing in the morning even this is beautiful: eerily quiet (and who doesn’t love the idea of wandering through a totally deserted tourist attraction?), the whistling wind the only sound, and dozens upon dozens of rabbits the only living things in sight.
I’d like to say I spend most of my time on these walks pondering the deep mysteries of existence and the universe, and it’s true, when the first rays of the sun hit those timeless rocks, standing now just as they have through the whole history of human life in this most primitive and inspiring of lands, I do have my moments. But by and large, I’ll be honest, I’m thinking about The Ghoul.


There’s a large, somewhat eerie, strangely melancholy white house en route (above), all alone in extensive but featureless grounds, that I always liked to think was the original location of Dr Lawrence and his oddball household. But now it seems unlikely that Daphne, Angela, Billy and Geoffrey ever got this far.
Just how near did they get?

So, over breakfast one morning I put the matter to my dad, who’s much better at this sort of thing than I am.
Here’s the challenge, I explained: Four people in the 1920s are attempting to drive to Land’s End. Let us suppose that they live in a reasonably large town, given their wealth, awareness of fashions in an age of limited media, and the large number of like minds attending their parties. Their destination is between one and two hundred miles from the start point, and somewhere, along the shortest and most reasonable pre-motorway route, they pass through boggy moorland and become stranded. (Since both cars separately end up there, it is reasonable to suppose that neither took a wrong turning.) So where have they probably started from, and where have they probably ended up?
The first thing you can do, he told me – long before you need to get specific with a map and compasses – is rule out London. Given the distances involved and the time taken, it is simply not a logical candidate for home base at all.
Now, if you draw two circles on a map, one representing 100 miles from the radial point of Land’s End and the other two hundred, and assume that the start point must be somewhere within those two circles, the range of possibilities is surprisingly small. A lot of it, of course, is underwater, and given that our heroes travel by car we can rule that out as confidently as London, if not more so.
Among the dry bits, my father reckons, the most likely candidates, from a shortlist that also includes Southampton, Yeovil and Salisbury, are Bristol, Bath and Bournemouth. I have decided to go for Bath, because I happen to live there, and it’s nice.
Now, where do they end up? Not a lot of moors on that route, and the only possibilities are Exmoor, Dartmoor or Bodmin Moor, with the latter by far the most likely, and the only one in Cornwall. It’s an appropriately misty, marshy and mysterious place, with many secluded corners, steeped in folklore and legend. (Not sure that any of its inhabitants needed to sleep inside mosquito nets, even in the 1920s, but we’ll allow Anthony Hinds that much dramatic license.)
Therefore, I propose that they set off from Bath and, with their target almost in sight, became stranded somewhere on Bodmin Moor.

I hope that’s put your mind at rest.

If only they had made it, I'm sure they'd have spent a more than comfortable night  in this splendid art deco hotel on the cliff walk between Land's End and Sennen Cove ...

... but they'd probably have been made less welcome at this magnificently austere temperance hotel on Land's End itself.

The other mystery about The Ghoul, of course, is just how that poor bugger ended up the way he is in the first place.
All we know is that he joined a decadent, evil sect and was corrupted by the experience. But then what? Did he catch a disease, or was he cursed, or what? By what process does falling into bad company leave you with rotten green skin and the desire to eat people?
And what happens if they don’t give him human flesh? Will he die – surely for supernatural rather than physiological reasons, if so? Would his system really know the difference if they brought him pork chops and just pretended it was prime cuts of Veronica Carlson?
These and other questions will be explored in my forthcoming five-volume study What Kind of Ghoul Am I?

(By Matthew Coniam Photographs by Angela Coniam)